Brian Gallagher, Staff Writer

The road to the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Tournament is a difficult journey, but with an 84-76 victory over the University of Akron Zips, the Miami University women’s basketball team assured itself a spot in Cleveland, clinching a double-bye to the quarterfinals.

“It was our first goal of the season to get a bye,” Head Coach Maria Fantanarosa said. “We‘re excited about it because the hard work is starting to pay off. But we’re not going to celebrate and act like we’ve arrived because we still have a lot work to do.”

With the victory, the RedHawks improve their record to 20-7 overall with a 10-4 conference mark. This marks the most wins by a Miami team since the 2007-2008 season, when the Red and White won 23 games and went on to win the MAC Tournament.

The RedHawks were led by junior guard Courtney Osborn, who poured in 21 points while dishing out seven assists. Although Osborn did not have the offensive explosion that was seen the last time these two teams met, when she went off for 48 points, her contributions as a floor general were invaluable to the victory.

“Courtney does a great job of controlling the tempo, especially at the end of the game,” Fantanarosa said. “She wants the ball in her hands, and a big part of why we won today was because of her ability to lead the team.”

Osborn was not the only star of the day though, as all five starters were in double figures for the ‘Hawks.

Junior forward Kirsten Olowinski picked up her second consecutive double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while senior guard Maggie Boyer continued her hot shooting and dropped 15 points, including nine from beyond the arc. Sophomore guard Hannah Robertson and senior forward Lillian Pitts were not about to be left out, and each added 12 points.

“We did a great job of moving the ball no matter what their defense threw at us,” Osborn said. “Everyone found a way to score today, and when you have five people in double figures, you just can’t guard that.”

The RedHawks shot 50 percent from the floor in the first half, but Akron was able to stay in the game thanks to a rebounding advantage and some untimely Miami turnovers. The Red and White went into the break nursing a 35-30 advantage.

“The first half turnovers happened when we were tired,” Fantanarosa said. “A lot were unforced, and that’s one of those things we need to work on to get the team to play a full 40 minutes.”

Things would not get easier in the second half and the Zips took their first lead of the game with 17:19 remaining at 41-40. From there, the game turned into a battle in which neither team was willing to surrender.

The score was tied seven times and the lead changed hands six times before the ‘Hawks began to pull away on the heels of a 9-0 run sparked by Osborn, putting Miami up 60-51 at the 10:01 mark.

The Zips would get as close as 78-74 with just over a minute remaining, but clutch free throws by Miami’s stalwarts, Osborn, Olowinski and Boyer, iced the game and gave the RedHawks their 13 home victory this season.

“This is turning into an ending that we wanted,” Osborn said. “Now we want to keep things rolling and go into the MAC Tournament strong.”

Next up for the ‘Hawks is conference-leading Bowling Green State University. The Falcons are only one of two teams to beat Miami at home this season, and the RedHawks will look to return the favor on the road 1 p.m. Saturday at the Stroh Center.

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