Alex Butler and Sam Hitchcock

Antonio Ballard reaches up for a dunk Saturday as the RedHawks slammed into their season with a 12-point win over SVSU.

The Miami University men’s basketball team returned to the hardwood Friday afternoon, downing Saginaw Valley State University in an exhibition game.

The scene was quite familiar in Millet Hall: a sea of red and white, a determined head coach in Charlie Coles and a RedHawk team returning four starters.

Although the ‘Hawks scratched their way to a 66-54 victory, they were in obvious pursuit of a leader. Four-year starter Tim Pollitz will be sorely missed by this year’s edition of the RedHawk Basketball team. Pollitz, who averaged 15.5 points and 7.1 boards just a year ago, was a cornerstone of RedHawk basketball and had an irreplaceable presence in Miami’s lineup.

“I’m not thinking so much about Tim anymore,” Coles said. “The NCAA was gracious and gave us four years with him and I’m not looking for a fifth. We did OK without him and we’ll be all right without him. He was a heck of a player so we have to find it in other players.”

One of those players will be sophomore Antonio Ballard, who led Miami in scoring Friday, amassing 16 points in 29 minutes of play. Ballard proved to be a dominant force with which to be reckoned and got to the free-throw line six times. Here, however, he shot only 50 percent on 12 attempts from the charity stripe.

As a team, the RedHawks made only 10 of 23 shots from the line. Nevertheless, Ballard did not point any fingers and blamed only himself for the team’s free throw struggles.

“I feel that free throw shooting isn’t necessarily poor as a team-I think it is more a problem with myself,” Ballard said. “Some of the shots feel good but they just don’t go in.”

Sophomore Nick Winbush will be filling in at the power forward spot. He brings a versatile game that contributes with good rebounding with a nice low post presence. Winbush chipped in with eight points Friday and a blocked shot against the visiting Cardinals.

Along with Winbush, senior forward Tyler Dierkers will bolster the front court attack. The 6 foot, 8 inch Dierkers, a product of Cincinnati’s Moeller High School, came within a rebound of a double-double citing 10 points and a game-high nine rebounds.

Dierkers said the 2008-09 team will play at a higher tempo than last year’s squad. Coles will only give in to his players’ wishes for a faster paced game, however, if they prove they are up for the task.

“If they want to play up-tempo they are going to have to earn it,” Coles said. “We didn’t play well enough today to have played an up-tempo style of play. We were sloppy and played poor defense and if they want that they are going to have to improve on those aspects.”

Miami’s regular season begins Wednesday against Weber State University in the 2k Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. If the RedHawks win, they move on to play the winner of No. 4 UCLA and Prairie View A&M University.

“We will play anybody anywhere,” Dierkers said. “I’m really excited to get the season underway. We’re working on our killer instinct and keeping our foot on the gas at all times.”