It went down as another loss in a season of too many losses. But, once again, Miami University’s men’s basketball team showed glimpses of pretty good play.
Jon Harris and Vince Legarza put up career-best scoring totals as the visiting RedHawks battled Mid-American Conference leader Akron for a half Tuesday night before falling 72-58 at James A. Rhodes Arena.
“We’re undermanned and everyone contributed and everyone competed, so I don’t have a problem with the effort,” MU coach John Cooper said. “I thought our effort was good enough. Quite frankly, we could not keep up with their ability to score.”
The Zips nearly lost at Millett Hall last month before escaping with a 54-50 victory, and they were only up 31-28 at halftime Tuesday.
But Akron opened the second half with a 16-4 run to create some separation, while Miami racked up 12 of its 20 turnovers after the break.
“Our turnovers allowed them to get easy points in transition, and once they hit a few of those 3s, they started to get more confidence,” said Harris, who had 21 points and six rebounds.
“We just couldn’t quite take care of the ball when we needed to,” Cooper said. “Too many careless turnovers.”
Will Felder collected 11 points, four boards, three assists and two steals for the RedHawks, who fell to 8-20 overall and 3-12 in the MAC East Division. Legarza had 10 points and six caroms.
The Zips, who saw their 19-game winning streak come to an end at Buffalo last Saturday, clinched the No. 1 seed in the MAC tournament. Their record rose to 24-5, 14-1.
“What they were able to do through the course of the regular season is very impressive,” Cooper said. “Kudos to them.”
Seven-footer Zeke Marshall paced Akron with 14 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots. Nick Harney (13), Alex Abreu (12) and Demetrius Treadwell (10) also scored in double figures.
The Zips shot 50.0 percent from the floor, 53.6 percent in the second half. They made 8 of 24 treys, 6 of 14 in the last 20 minutes.
“Part of our problem has been we haven’t had that spurtability because we haven’t shot the ball very good from outside,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. “We’re going to score inside — that’s evident. We need to get out in transition more, and I think the key for us is shooting the ball better from outside.”
MU actually shot 52.6 percent from the field after halftime (46.0 percent overall), but thwarted its own cause with the frequent turnovers.
After Akron’s early surge in the second half, the RedHawks could get no closer than 54-46 with 8:57 remaining.
“The first time we played them, we definitely battled hard and made them play the kind of game they didn’t want to play, a grind-it-out kind of game,” Legarza said. “We did that pretty well in the first half tonight. I thought we made them a little uncomfortable with our effort and some of the things we were doing.
“In the second half, they kind of got to do what they wanted to do, which is run and knock down transition 3s and get the ball inside. That’s been their theme all year. They kind of start slow and wake up the giants and start playing a little harder. They’re tough to beat when they’re playing like that.”
Added Harris, “We’re going out there and competing our butts off every game, but good teams know how to win. They go through their stretches, but they make runs and know how to come back. We’ve got to learn to do the same.”
For Legarza, Miami’s lone senior, Tuesday represented the best game of his career. In addition to his first double-digit scoring effort, he matched his career high in rebounding.
The 6-foot-9 center also performed favorably against Marshall and went right at him on several occasions.
“My definition of the best game of my career would be a game where I did something to help our team win,” Legarza said. “I’m just trying to give the guys in this locker room everything I’ve got. I’m not going to be a thousand-point scorer, you know what I mean? It’s not like I’m going for some goal. I’m trying to play as hard as I can to set a standard for the future and to let these guys know that I care about every one of them.”
And what about some of his moves against the highly regarded Marshall?
“I can be pretty crafty,” Legarza said. “When you can’t get off the floor at all, you’ve got to be pretty creative, use your (butt) and fakes and get under guys. I’ve been doing that since I was a little kid because I’ve never been able to jump very well.”
“Vince does a great job of setting people up, which a lot of people don’t see,” Harris said. “I tell him every day I appreciate that, the screens, just playing off of other people.”
The RedHawks played without redshirt junior guard Allen Roberts, who suffered a knee injury during last Saturday’s game against Kent State. He hurt his right knee, the same one that forced him to miss the entire 2011-12 season.
“I don’t know if he’ll be back or not,” Cooper admitted. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
The Zips have been a pressing team most of the year, and Dambrot felt his squad was a little “dead-legged” in Tuesday’s opening half. He thought Akron tired itself out with unproductive running while MU was controlling the tempo.
“I think they used clock in the second half, and we did a better job at the end of the clock,” Dambrot said. “We took less risk. If you wait late in the clock against us, you’re still driving it in to Zeke Marshall, which is a problem.”
Dambrot credited Miami for its efforts in both games against the Zips this year. He knows Cooper has some quality players to deal with.
“We recruited five of those guys on Miami’s team,” said Dambrot, specifically mentioning Harris, Quinten Rollins, Josh Sewell and Drew McGhee. “Those guys aren’t Swiss cheese. I don’t remember Jon Harris ever hurting us as badly as he did tonight.”
Marshall scored 12 of his points in the second half. He dished out three assists in the first half.
“They were controlling the tempo with their zone,” Marshall said. “They were going to force us to shoot (from the outside). As soon as I got the ball, it was collapse, so I started throwing it out to our shooters. We weren’t hitting all of them, but we hit them when they mattered.”
Both teams have one more game in the regular season. Akron hosts Kent State on Friday at 7 p.m., and MU visits Ohio on Saturday at 4 p.m.