The RedHawks went 2-2 over break but in their victory over Northwestern State University they were plagued with bad news almost equivalent to defeat.
Star point guard Kenny Hayes, who averages 13.9 points and 3.8 assists per game, injured his wrist and is out indefinitely with an injury that requires surgery. Losing the leader in assists and second leader in points scored means senior guard Carl Richburg and freshmen Kramer Soderberg must fill Hayes’ shoes and attempt to display the same dangerous dribble penetration that Hayes brought the offense.
During the first game over winter break, it appeared the RedHawks defense was still on vacation. The West Virginia University Mountaineers shot 58 percent in the first half as the game was put out of reach 47-17. In the second half, the RedHawks gave a more noble effort, holding their opponents to only 35 points. Miami was still outscored, however, and the blowout ended in an 82-46 loss. Senior Michael Bramos finished with 14 points but was the only starter in double figures as starters Tyler Dierkers, Carl Richburg and Eric Pollitz combined to shoot 3-11.
“They did just the things they needed to do to beat us,” Coles said. “And not just beat us, but pound us. I can’t ever remember a team having all the answers against us like they did.”
The ‘Hawks then traveled to Louisiana to play Northwestern State, a team they trounced at home earlier in the season with a full and healthy roster. Both teams fought extremely hard for 40 minutes as Dierkers and Pollitz rebounded from their previous performance, combining for 26 points. Pollitz’s 16 points marked a career high and tied him for the game high. Also with 16 tallies, sophomore Rodney Haddix II came off the bend and provided a tremendous spark.
The game was seemingly in hand as the ‘Hawks went up 69-64 with 2:13 left. The Demons, however, roared to the finish, scoring four unanswered points down the stretch. Miami survived only when NWSU missed a layup in the final seconds of the game.
The ‘Hawks finished their road trip heading to the house of in-state rival Dayton University for a dogfight against the Flyers. What ensued was a defensive battle with which the Flyers had the RedHawks seeing déjÃ vu.
For the second year in a row the Flyers made a late run to overtake the RedHawks. The loss was similar to many suffered by the RedHawks last year as the regression to a more conservative style of play was evident in their 17 first half points. On a brighter note the RedHawks got a better idea of the kind of talent freshmen Julia Muvunga is going to be as he led the ‘Hawks in scoring with 12 points.
The ‘Hawks kicked off MAC play against Akron University Saturday. After facing an interminable out of conference schedule, the ‘Hawks hoped to replicate the fire with which they played against the four top 25 teams they faced.
The game was eerily reminiscent in the first half of their game against Dayton, as the ‘Hawks struggled from the field, putting up only 19 points. In the second half, Miami continued to struggle offensively but made some key defensive stops against the Zips. The ‘Hawks clearly seemed to be adjusting offensively to their new point guard, who struggled at times. Despite some blunders, however, Richburg came up with two gigantic shots to tie the game in the final few minutes.
“I think it really helped his confidence,” Bramos said of a late game-tying three pointer. “He was put into an unexpected situation, and Carl has played pretty well. It has been exciting to see Carl continue to improve and for him to make the two biggest shots of the game should give him a huge confidence lift.”
Bramos, like the rest of the RedHawks struggled mightily from the field, recording only eight points in regulation, He shot 0-7 from the three point line.
In overtime, the ‘Hawks came alive, scoring the first eight points of the five-minute period. Bramos added four to what would end up being a 13 point victory.
“I wasn’t here last year, but I know what the end result was, “Muvunga said. “We lost to (Akron) twice in one season. When that happens it allows you to play with a bit of a vengeance.”
The win proves the RedHawks can beat a perennial MAC championship contender without star point guard Kenny Hayes.
“Everyone knows the importance of MAC games,” Bramos said. “We lost Kenny but Carl matches up well against the smaller guards of the MAC. We know were still settling in, that were a work in progress. But what we were able to learn was how to play in a tough environment, respond to adversity.”