Sam Hitchcock

Senior Kenny Hays reaches for a dunk against the No. 16 Xavier Musketeers Nov. 29. The RedHawks bring their exciting play to Millett Hall for their home opener Saturday.

The Miami University men’s basketball team’s schedule of death is over.

Finishing a grueling six-game road trip in which they played three top 16 teams, the RedHawks traveled to the city of Brotherly Love Wednesday and left with a 68-52 victory over Temple University in hand. This pushed the team to 3-3 overall, with all three of its losses coming from the three ranked opponents.

Miami is now set to tip off in Millett Hall for the first time of this year’s campaign at 3 p.m. Saturday against the Northwestern State University Demons.

“Your men’s basketball team has been traveling all over from West coast to East coast playing some of the best teams in the country,” head coach Charlie Coles wrote in an e-mail addressed to the student fan base. “Quite honestly, we cannot wait to play our first home game.”

Although stiff competition against powerhouse conferences such as the Big East, PAC-10 and Atlantic 10 might faze some teams, Miami has proven to be not just a worthy opponent but an extremely competitive team which tested the mettle of the three tough teams.

“We had some tough losses,” Coles said, “but I think those past games helped us.”

The ‘Hawks played their season opener against Weber State University and won in dramatic fashion with a last-second Kenny Hayes three-pointer to break a tie and eclipse the Wildcats 70-66. (Hayes was fouled on the shot).

Next up came the No. 4 UCLA Bruins, as Miami visited the cathedral of college basketball. The ‘Hawks seemed not to notice the 11 national championship banners hanging in the rafters as they took the Bruins to the brink, trailing by one point with only 51 seconds remaining. Through tough defense UCLA was able to come away with the win but the ‘Hawks proved they are a force to be reckon with this season.

The coach of their next opponent, the University of Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon, told ESPN.com that playing Miami was “like two hours in a dentist’s chair.” But while the Panthers came in expecting a dogfight, they ended up getting a barn burner. The ‘Hawks stayed tough with the Panthers in the first half, trailing by only five at the break, but the talent of the Panthers as well as fatigue from traveling to Pittsburgh from California resulted in an 82-53 loss.

Coming off this draining defeat, Miami then faced a team that has caused much heartache for the ‘Hawks over the last two years: Wright State University. The Raiders defeated Miami in their last two meetings by a combined two points. This time, though, it was a different story, as the RedHawks cruised to a 55-37 win.

“The Wright State game was a great performance all around,” red-shirt Freshman Vince Legarza said. “Our defense was awesome as we held them to only 37. The amazing thing too was we let them have a couple easy baskets with defensive lapses. It could have easily been under 30. Kenny and Michael did their thing and it was really nice to beat them after they upset us the last two years.”

Miami then trekked to its home state Ohio, where the RedHawks met No. 14 Xavier University. The Musketeers were looking for revenge after the ‘Hawks upset them in last year’s season opener. Miami led by six points with 14 minutes remaining but contributions from Xavier’s Derrick Brown and B.J. Raymond ultimately proved to be too much for the feisty ‘Hawks as they fell 60-53.

Against the Owls in Wednesday’s road-trip finale, Michael Bramos and Kenny Hayes scored a combined 43 points to silence the Owls in a comfortable 68-52 victory. Miami’s defense was outstanding, holding the Owls and star guard Dionte Christmas in check all night. Christmas is the nation’s ninth leading scorer managed to net just 11 against a stingy RedHawk defense led by senior Eric Pollitz.

Miami also broke out into some flair as the team slammed home three dunks in the last minute and a half of the game.

Coach Coles had been keeping this in check so far this season explaining the ‘Hawks would play more wide open when they deserved it. Wednesday may have been that turning point as the ‘Hawks matured with a statement game on the road.

This exciting style of play is sure to carry into Saturday against Northwestern State as Miami looks forward to energizing its first home crowd of the season.

“Your presence in Millett Hall creates a home court advantage,” Coles wrote to the student fan base. “Students near the court cheering makes the RedHawks tough to beat at Millett Hall. We can talk about the 17 NCAA appearances, 21 MAC Championships or the four consecutive post-season appearances, but the real success is because of your support for our program.”

Miami fans are encouraged to “turn it red” Saturday at Millett Hall when the RedHawks take on the Demons.

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