Although the icy temperatures continued in Oxford, the Miami University men’s basketball team was able to put a stop to its cold streak. Notching its first Mid-American Conference win of the season and halting a five-game losing streak, the Red and White defeated the University at Buffalo 64-57.
With the victory, Miami Head Coach Charlie Coles recorded his 200th win at the helm of the ‘Hawks, and also moved into a tie with former Ohio University Head Coach Jim Snyder on the MAC’s all-time league win chart with 176 league wins. After the game, however, Coles downplayed his accomplishment by drawing attention to the amount of time it took him to get there.
“I’m like the guy who gained 100 yards, but had 100 carries,” Coles said.
All jokes aside, Coles did eventually hint at how meaningful the win was to him. Surprisingly, though, it was not the accomplishment itself that he was proud of, but what the accomplishment signified.
“I’m very proud of the fact that I haven’t won every game and there have been some seasons that haven’t been quite as good as people wanted them to be, but hey, I’m still coaching,” Coles said. “That was my life’s dream. That is what I wanted to do. I’m proud of that.”
As both players and coaches admitted, the victory did not necessarily look pretty. Although it was indeed a hard earned win, the game was sloppy as neither team played particularly well. Both the RedHawks and Bulls shot below 40 percent from the field and 70 percent from the free-throw line.
Miami was able to get out to an early lead that was fueled by a hot Kenny Hayes and the first zone defense employed by Coles this season. Hayes, who saw a significantly increased role in the game due to an indefinitely injured Michael Bramos, scored 14 first half points on his way to a career high of 20.
“I’m happy I got 20 but I’m more happy we got the win,” Hayes said. “I could have had zero and still been happy about the win. The most important thing was getting this first MAC win and getting our confidence up.”
Most of his points were scored on lightning quick drives into the lane, as Buffalo’s aggressive defense all but eliminated the 3-point-shot. The absence of sharp shooter Michael Bramos complemented by the Bulls’ relentless press left Miami with only one trey all afternoon. However, Hayes’ slicing and dicing in the first half followed by senior forward Tim Pollitz’s strong play in the paint during the second half made for a formidable inside offense. While Pollitz was largely ineffective during the opening minutes of the game, he was a force to be reckoned with during the second period of play. After the game, Pollitz attributed his strong finish to his ability to focus mentally.
“If you’re worried about the first half, you’re defeated already,” Pollitz said.
Along with the easy buckets, Miami’s inside presence also created more rebounds. Early in the second half, the ‘Hawks were out rebounding the Bulls, the MAC’s top rebounding team. Junior center Tyler Dierkers tied a career high on the boards with nine rebounds.
“Right now at this point in the season we’re just trying to get better,” Pollitz said. “We really didn’t play that great. We haven’t been playing that great in the past six games ever since Xavier and down in Anaheim. We take this as a stepping-stone to our next game against BG (Bowling Green). It’s just a confidence booster, (that) is what it is. It’s just a good feeling to get a win and knowing that we’re still capable of pulling games off.”
Even though they are struggling, the RedHawks are far from defeated. Despite their youth and inexperience, the ‘Hawks are not without their fair share of veteran leadership. Pollitz, the team’s only senior, called a players-only meeting after practice the day before the game to get everyone re-focused and on the same page.
“I thought (the team meeting) was very necessary because we haven’t been playing very good basketball at all,” Pollitz said. “We’ve been thinking too much out there. We haven’t been playing together as a team.”
As the team leader, Pollitz has stressed the importance of team unity. He feels that strong relationships with one another both on and off the court are vital to their success.
“When it comes down to it, it’s about our togetherness out there and our love for each other because that’s all we got,” Pollitz said. “We’ve got coaches to direct us and show us what to do, but once we’re out there on the court it’s just us. They can’t come out there on the court and play with us. We’re just trying to get to know each other more and more, and get better each and every day.”
Up next for the ‘Hawks is a road game against the Bowling Green State University Falcons. The two teams will face off at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Miami returns home to Millett Hall Jan. 26 when the Red and White play host to Eastern Michigan University.