It was the kind of game that Miami University’s men’s basketball team has grown accustomed to losing. But the RedHawks’ time came Monday night, and they were ready to celebrate.
MU, seeded last in the Mid-American Conference tournament and lugging a nine-game losing streak, lived to play another day with a 63-52 first-round victory over host Bowling Green.
“We’re getting ready to write a story,” said Miami freshman guard Reggie Johnson, who was among the heroes. “It’s going to be something interesting.”
Jon Harris (14), Johnson (12) and Will Felder (11) paced the scoring for the RedHawks. Allen Roberts, who said last week that his season was over because of a meniscus tear, added eight points and six rebounds.
MU (9-21), the 11th seed, advances to play No. 7 Eastern Michigan (15-17) at 9 p.m. on Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
“It’s not about me. I’m happy for the kids,” Miami coach John Cooper said. “I’m happy because they have continued to compete and fight and do all those things. Something good has happened for them.”
The RedHawks ran off 11 consecutive points to grab a 43-31 lead with 14:12 remaining, holding the Falcons scoreless for nearly nine minutes before a crowd of 1,715 at the Stroh Center.
MU then went through a jittery stage, an all-too-frequent occurrence this season, with turnovers and missed shots. And sixth-seeded BGSU came roaring back.
The Falcons narrowed the margin to two twice (47-45 and 49-47). The latter score stood until Johnson buried a 3-pointer with 2:31 remaining. Fifth-one seconds later, Johnson banked in a trey to make it 55-49.
“One of my old coaches tweeted me earlier that it’s better to be lucky right now than good,” Johnson said. “It was just luck. It’s just our time. That goes to show you right there.”
“What do you say?” Cooper said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to have someone make shots. If I’m (BGSU coach Louis Orr) and he hits one off the backboard, you’ve got to say to yourself, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I’ve been there, trust me.”
Johnson may have been fortunate on the second triple, but the first was simply clutch.
“The guys have got confidence in me,” he said. “I feel like if a junior or senior passes me the ball, they must know something that I don’t. So I’ve just got to step in and shoot it like it’s a regular shot. You can’t think about the moment.”
Miami outscored Bowling Green 14-5 over the last 2:31, hitting 8 of 8 free throws in the final 61 seconds. The visitors were 16 of 19 overall at the charity stripe.
Cooper said he wasn’t overcome by negative thoughts during the RedHawks’ rough patch in the second half.
“I wasn’t shocked,” Cooper said. “For me in the huddle, it’s trying to talk to our guys and get them to understand that we’ve been here before. Can we figure out a way to weather the storm and hold together and have some character and intestinal fortitude to figure out a way to win the game?”
Said Johnson, “We’ve been here so many times. It prepared us. We talked about it yesterday at dinner, yesterday at breakfast, yesterday at meetings, that it’s a whole new season. Now we’re ready. Now we’re prepared for anything.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the appearance of Roberts in a uniform. The redshirt junior guard talked openly last week about the knee injury that appeared to have ended his season.
Since then, though, he got cleared by his family physician to try to finish the year. The Middletown native played 21 minutes off the bench Monday and didn’t seem to have movement issues.
“I just did it for my teammates,” Roberts said. “Whatever I can do for Miami to win, that’s what I’ve got to do. That goes for driving, passing, rebounding, whatever.”
Was there pain during the contest?
“I’ve just got to keep strengthening it up, but I don’t think it’s that bad to where I can’t play. My adrenaline rush propelled me through it,” said Roberts, who noted that he’s unsure if he’ll require surgery once the season’s over.
While the RedHawks savored their first postseason win since 2009-10, Bowling Green lost to a lower-seeded team in the first round of the tournament for the second straight year.
A’uston Calhoun, Chauncey Orr and Jordon Crawford all had 10 points for the Falcons (13-19), who were 1-2 against MU this season. The hosts shot 38.0 percent from the floor and sank just 6 of 24 treys.
“We needed to make some shots from the perimeter,” Louis Orr said. “They play a defense against us where they really, really try to take away our inside guys. I knew that would happen because they did it before.
Harris did all of his scoring in the first half for Miami, hitting 4 of 5 shots beyond the arc. Orr said BGSU was certainly aware of him coming in, but had no luck trying to stop him until after the break.
“From a team that doesn’t really shoot a high percentage from 3, he was the one guy that we knew could hurt us,” Orr said. “He’s a tough cover at the 4 because he stretches your defense. That’s why we went to the zone. He didn’t score in the second half, so we did a better job. But he got their confidence going.”
MU was 9 0f 20 from distance and won the battle of the boards 33-30. Harris grabbed six rebounds, and Johnson and Felder chipped in four apiece.
Calhoun and Richaun Holmes both snagged six caroms for the Falcons. They had 10 turnovers, one more than the RedHawks.
There has been talk that this might be Orr’s last season at the BGSU helm (he’s 89-101 in six seasons). He was asked about his job after the game.
“I’m the coach right now, so what happens in the future, only God knows,” Orr said. “The only thing that’s in my control is my faith and coaching the game. I didn’t hire myself and I’m under contract, and that’s how it is. The rest I trust in God.”
Miami is now 8-1 against Bowling Green in MAC tournament play.
In Monday’s other two MAC contests, Eastern Michigan edged No. 10 Northern Illinois 45-44 and No. 8 Buffalo topped No. 9 Central Michigan 74-72 in overtime.