After a thrilling come from behind victory against Eastern Michigan University (EMU) Feb. 1, the Miami University men’s basketball team (7-14, 3-6 Mid-American Conference (MAC)) won its first conference road game of the year against Ball State University (12-9, 4-5 MAC) Saturday afternoon by a score of 59-53.
Miami has now won two straight games against the top two teams in the MAC West Division.
The Red and White were up 16 at the half and were able to hold on despite the Cardinals rallying to within three points in the second half.
“We’ll take it,” Head Coach Charlie Coles said. “We probably aren’t going to blow anyone out. We still made a lot of mistakes, but we’re beginning to make shots and we are defending a little bit better. Brian Sullivan was huge again.”
Sullivan led the RedHawks with 18 points and made a lot of key buckets in the second half to keep the hard-charging Cardinals from completing their comeback attempt. Sophomore guard Quinten Rollins played a big role as well in Miami’s victory with 14 points and stellar playing alongside Sullivan.
“I think [our confidence] is as high as it’s been since the beginning of the season,” Sullivan said. “Being as young as we are, we needed that spark with the EMU win to get us going again.”
Miami’s defense was playing at its highest level all season by holding Ball State to 33.3 percent shooting, including just 25.9 percent in the first half. On the other side of the ball, the RedHawks shot 54.1 percent from the floor.
The Red and White also got contributions from senior forward Adam Thomas who, in his first career start, made the first two threes of his career and finished with eight points. Coles inserted Thomas into the lineup following his performance against Eastern Michigan.
“Thomas gave us a huge lift,” Coles said. “We need that kind of activity and we need to try and beat people by getting to loose balls and getting rebounds.”
At the start of the second half, Ball State began to attack the RedHawks with a full-court press in their comeback attempt. Miami struggled to handle the press and turned the ball over several times, which allowed the Cardinals to get back in the game despite playing excellent half-court defense.
“They played us tough, but all we have to do is get the ball in, that’s where we’ve had the most trouble,” Rollins said. “Once we get it in, we are usually fine.”
Miami had an eight-point lead with 39 seconds remaining following some key buckets by Sullivan, but Ball State was able to cut the lead to three with 24 seconds remaining following a few missed free throws by the ‘Hawks.
Senior forward Julian Mavunga iced the game by going 4-for-4 at the charity stripe in the final 23 seconds of the game. Mavunga finished the game with 10 points, 10 rebounds and a team-high five assists for his 13th double-double of the season. Sullivan also drained a free throw late in the contest to keep it a two-possession game.
Mavunga was named MAC East Division’s Player of the Week Monday following a strong pair of performances that helped the ‘Hawks win their first back-to-back games of the season.
The Red and White will look to continue their win streak when they travel to Northern Illinois University to play Xavier Silas and the Huskies at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Silas is the MAC’s leading scorer, averaging 22.3 points per game, and will likely be defended by Rollins.
“I’m going to worry about my defense first; I’ve had to match up with great players every week since the Dayton game,” Rollins said.