Loser of its previous four contests, the Miami men’s basketball team needed a morale booster heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
It got one in dramatic fashion Tuesday with a tight 84-81 victory over the MAC-leading Buffalo Bulls (20-8, 12-3 MAC) at Millett Hall.
“This was just a war,” MU head coach Jack Owens said. “I believe [Buffalo has] a team that can not only go to the NCAA Tournament, but win games. So for us to get this win, with the way we were able to finish this game and have everyone contribute to the win, I’m just happy for the guys. I told the guys after the game that you guys deserve this win.”
Miami (14-14, 7-8 MAC) won the opening tip-off, but quickly fell victim to a 6-0 Bulls’ run to start the contest.
The first RedHawks’ basket came two minutes into the game when sophomore forward Bam Bowman converted a hook shot.
A three-pointer by freshman forward Dalonte Brown pulled the RedHawks within two at 12-10, but Buffalo got hot, pushing its lead to double-digits over the next four minutes.
With under four minutes remaining in the half and the Bulls up 35-25, freshman guard Isaiah Coleman-Lands hit a three to help the RedHawks cut into their deficit. Another Coleman-Lands trey brought the ‘Hawks within three, but UB senior guard Wes Clark made a layup to give the Bulls a 41-36 halftime lead.
Miami never led during the half.
However, it did bounce back to start the second half. Freshman guard Nike Sibande scored five of the RedHawks’ first seven second-half points, including a three pointer that knotted the game at 43.
Following Sibande’s game-tying three, a Brown dunk gave Miami its first lead of the contest.
The teams traded scores and leads over the next six minutes, before another Coleman-Lands three gave the RedHawks a 54-53 advantage — one they’d never lose.
With under nine minutes remaining in regulation, two Sibande free throws stretched Miami’s lead to double-digits, 67-56.
But Buffalo didn’t fade away. It rattled off eight straight points to reduce the deficit to 67-64. At 3:04, UB junior forward Nick Perkins made the second of two free throws to move the score to 76-72.
Neither team scored until Brown slammed home a dunk with 0:43 seconds left. The jam extended Miami’s advantage to 78-72.
Clutch free-throw shooting clinched an 84-81 win for the RedHawks. They made 6-of-8 from the charity stripe in the last 31 seconds. Free throws made the difference in the scoring column, as Miami made three more freebies than Buffalo did. Each team hit 30 shots from the field and 11 threes.
“Give the guys credit,” Owens said. “They just stepped up and made shots.”
Miami also bucked its trend of losing when outrebounded. The Bulls secured a 34-28 advantage on the boards. The RedHawks improved to 3-9 in games when they lose the rebounding margin.
Nike Sibande led the RedHawks with 21 points, and tied Darrian Ringo for the team-lead with three steals. Dalonte Brown tallied 17 points and grabbed a team-high seven boards.
Isaiah Coleman-Lands registered a new career-high in scoring with 17 points. He drained five of his seven three-point attempts.
“I felt good,” Coleman-Lands said. “I had it going for a little bit. My teammates did a great job of finding me when I was open, so kudos to them. Then, I did what I was supposed to do — hit the open shot.”
Buffalo had three scorers eclipse 17 points: junior guard Jeremy Harris (23), Clark (18) and Perkins (18). Miami held the rest of the Bulls to 22 combined points.
“To be honest, [Harris, Clark, and Perkins] are going to get theirs,” Owens said. “They’re studs, man. Perkins is a Power-Five big. Harris is probably the best player in our league when you talk about numbers and what he does for that team. He scores on the perimeter. He scores inside. He’s just tough.”
The win boosts the ‘Hawks back to .500 after Saturday’s loss to OU dropped them under the break-even mark for the first time this season.
“We showed we could play with anybody in this league,” Coleman-Lands said. “We just beat the Number One team. We just have to keep the ball rolling. Our job is not finished, so we’ve got to keep on going.”
Miami will travel to Akron Saturday for a 2 p.m. tip-off. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.