DEKALB, ILL - After spending over half a season without a "true road win," the Miami RedHawks are now on a road win streak.
Senior Kenny Hayes scored 22 points, and the RedHawks (10-13) held on for their second "visitors" win of the week with a 74-69 victory over Northern Illinois Saturday at the Convocation Center.
It was Miami's fourth straight win and raised the RedHawks' MAC record to 7-3. Northern Illinois, meanwhile, lost for the sixth time in as many outings while falling to 4-6 in league play and 8-16 overall.
Miami, known for slow starts early in the season, quickly hit its offensive stride and led by a whopping 18 points (44-26) at halftime. The Huskies, however, refused to fold and wiped out the entire 18-point advantage by the 7:00 mark of the second half.
"We knew that Northern's back was against the wall,... so that makes them dangerous," Miami head coach Charlie Coles said. They're playing at home, (and) they've lost five straight. They're really a pretty good team,... and they're going to find their stride sooner or later. We knew we were in for a fight."
Coles noted NIU "missed a lot of easy shots" in the first half. Miami, meanwhile, was on fire. The RedHawks not only shot 53 percent from the field (16 0f 30), they drained 10 of 13 treys before intermission.
Northern Illinois, the league's No. 3 offense (MAC games), came out firing in the second stanza, scoring eight unanswered points. Darion "Jake" Anderson provided the first bucket and Xavier Silas followed with a pair of treys. Silas, who entered the contest averaging 19.9 points per game, scored just three points in the first half but quickly hit a pair of treys during the Huskies run immediately after intermission.
Kenny Hayes' basket at 13:26 gave MU a 55-43 lead. But the senior was whistled for his third foul at 13:00. That sent him to the bench, and NIU went on a 14-2 run that included time after Hayes had returned. Five straight points by Anderson later lifted the Huskies into a 57-all tie with Miami at 7:13.
It was the kind of situation for which Miami had no answers earlier this season. The Huskies were on a roll, and the home crowd was howling.
Whether it was confidence from Thursday's win at Western Michigan or just plain execution, Miami had answers this time. Ballard provided the first answer when he broke the 57-all tie with an alley-oop dunk. Hayes then added a layup to give the visitors a four-point advantage.
Lee Fisher replied with his own big dunk - this one off a rebound - but he was assessed a technical foul for hanging on the rim. Hayes made one free throw from the technical award and added two more when he was fouled during the ensuing possession.
While the Huskies kept nipping at Miami's heels, the RedHawks always had an answer. After NIU closed to 65-63, Julian Mavunga made a pair of free throws. Silas matched that with a pair, but Nick Winbush responded with his third trey of the afternoon.
An Anderson layup at 1:02 left Northern three back at 71-68, but Mavunga answered with a strong drive to the hoop for the game's final field goal. Mavunga, whose contributions gained added importance during the absence of injured center Adam Fletcher, netted 13 points and 11 rebounds for his first double-double since Jan. 23.
Each team added a free throw for the final margin.
Joining Hayes (22) and Mavunga (13) in double figures for Miami were Winbush (17) and Ballard (13). Ballard has now been in double figures three straight games, while Winbush bounced back from a two-point night against Western Michigan to hit double figures for the fifth time in six games.
Anderson (16), Silas (13) and Fisher (11) were in double figures for the Huskies.
Although Northern Illinois had one more field goal (26) than Miami (25) and outrebounded the visitors 33-25, MU made two more free throws (12 of 17) than the Huskies (10 of 16). Miami also hit 12 (of 19) treys, while NIU made 10 (of 16). All but two of Miami's 3-pointers came before intermission.
"Any time you make 10 threes in one half, then you know it is going to rain a little bit in the second half," said Coles, who celebrated another birthday with another road win.
Miami returns home to wrap up its MAC West schedule Wednesday against Toledo (7 p.m.). Northern Illinois will try to end its current skid when it visits Bowling Green Wednesday (7 p.m.)