CLEVELAND — Miami men’s basketball battled to a 71-69 loss to the Toledo Rockets in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament on Thursday evening. Playing the No. 2 seeded Rockets, the No. 7 seeded RedHawks matched the potent Toledo offense in the first-half, but fell behind by 12 in the second half and couldn’t complete the comeback.
“First of all, I just thought our guys competed,” head coach Jack Owens said at his post-game press conference. “It was one of those deals where you wish you had more time.”
Miami beat Ohio University on Monday evening in the first-round of the MAC tournament, thanks to a decisive second-half. The RedHawks’ finishing touch was lost on Thursday at the Quicken Loans Arena, as Miami finished its season 16-17 overall with an 8-10 MAC record.
Toledo (22-10) advanced to play in the semi-finals on Friday night. They would beat Eastern Michigan, but lost in the championship game to Buffalo.
Against Miami, the Rockets got on the board first with a layup from junior guard Jaelen Sanford, but the ’Hawks battled to tie the game and go up 5-4 into the first media timeout.
The first half was fast and furious, and the score read 19-15 in favor of the RedHawks with 10 minutes gone. It was a three-man show as freshman guard Nike Sibande and junior guard Darrian Ringo combined for 15 points of Miami’s 19, and Toledo’s Sanford had nine of his team’s 15 points.
The pace slowed and the Rockets went on an 11-5 run to take the lead 26-24 with 5:29 left in the first half.
Miami answered Toledo’s baskets with their own, though both teams fell out of rhythm for the last two minutes of the half. The Rockets and the RedHawks missed a handful of free throws and easy layups, and the 30-29 Toledo lead would stand.
In the fast-paced first half, neither team led by more than six. The lead changed eight times during the opening 20 minutes, and was tied six times.
The early stages of the second half mimicked the first, as the teams traded baskets and the lead. Freshman guard Jalen Adaway put Miami up 36-35 with 17:26 left to play. Toledo’s sophomore center Luke Knapke drained a three twenty seconds later to reclaim the lead.
The RedHawks kept it close for the following four minutes with help from Sibande and Ringo’s sharp shooting behind the arc. Though MAC Player of the Year senior forward Tre’Shaun Fletcher would not be outdone, and he gave the Rockets a 49-46 lead with 12:53 left — a lead the Rockets wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.
A 7-0 run from the Rockets combined with a three-minute Miami scoring drought gave Toledo a 10-point advantage. Senior forward Logan McLane put his team back on the score sheet with a layup, but the RedHawks lost their touch and forced shots from behind the arc that wouldn’t go.
Toledo’s biggest lead of the game came at 6:44 and the score read 63-51. Miami faced similar deficits throughout the season, and finally got the lead under 10 when there was 3:47 left to play.
“I feel like we’ve been in this situation multiple times throughout the season so I feel like we was prepared for moments like this,” Sibande said.
The RedHawks began to chip away at the Rockets’ advantage. A three from freshman forward Dalonte Brown pulled the ’Hawks within four with 2:03 left to play. On the following possession, Brown fouled to send Toledo’s junior forward Nate Navigato to the line. Navigato pushed it back to a three possession game.
The ’Hawks were undeterred, but undisciplined. Sibande had a clutch layup and back-to-back threes — eliciting roars from the Miami crowd as the score read 70-69 with 11 seconds to play.
A foul on Jalen Adaway, the team’s 14th, sent Sanford to the line where he collected his 21st point of the game.
The Q held their breath as the clock read nine seconds and the RedHawks gave the ball to Sibande. Sibande’s shot with two seconds left was no good and hit the back of the rim.
The horn sounded, the scoreboard read 71-69 and the RedHawks’ season ended.
“We wanted to come out and win really bad,” Ringo said. “There was just a few breakdowns that we had, so it really hurt us late.”
The Rockets shot 43.5 percent from the field, while the RedHawks only shot 39.4 percent. The ’Hawks kept it close from far away, as they shot 31 percent from three-point land.
A defensive game, Miami held Toledo 10 points below its average points per game, though the Rockets shut out freshman guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands and senior forward Rod Mills.
Sibande finished with a team-high 20 points. Ringo logged 19 and was 5-for-5 behind the arc. Toledo’s Sanford finished with 21 points and had eight field goals — the most of either team.
Even with Miami’s 17th loss, it was the first time in seven years men’s basketball finished with 16 wins. Last year, the team lost in the first round of the tournament and only won 11 games.
“At the end of the day I’m happy with our guys’ fight,” Owens said. “Execution and things like that will get better in time.”
Miami men’s basketball accepted a bid to the College Basketball Invitational on Sunday. The RedHawks are one of 16 teams which accepted bids and will face Campbell University in North Carolina on Wednesday at 7 p.m. for the first-round of the tournament. Read more about the seeding on miamistudent.net.