Miami's Allen Roberts throws a no-look pass during MU's win over Southeast Missouri State.
OXFORD, OH. - For many college teams, playing an ESPNU Bracket Buster game simply mean another non-conference date on the schedule. Such a game might even be a nuisance in that it presents opportunities for injuries and/or adds to the wear-and-tear teams experience after nearly three months of competition.
Ask some coaches off the record, and they might say they'd rather skip the Bracket Buster game altogether. But for Charlie Coles, this year's Bracket Buster tilt brought another opportunity. That opportunity came as a chance for MU to right itself before what figures to be the most critical stretch of its conference slate.
Miami took care of business Saturday, defeating Southeast Missouri State 69-53 in a game that featured RedHawks versus Redhawks. Notice, if you will, that Miami uses a capital "H" in RedHawks, while Southeast Missouri State sticks with a lower case "h."
What Coles felt his RedHawks needed was a well-earned victory that would give the Oxford crew a capital "W" - a chance to bounce back from two consecutive MAC losses, including a particularly hard loss against Akron in Miami's previous game.
"This was a huge game for us just to kind of show that we aren't going to lay down at any point in the season," forward Adam Fletcher said. "After the Akron game, (coach Coles) kind of got us fired up."
"Wedenesday. ... when I went home after the game," Coles said, "I thought, 'How can I get these guys back up', because they showed me enough, that I believed that we could possibly get better."
"I was a tough guy to get along with Friday and today," he continued. "During the time outs, I was ranting and raving. It just was that kind of a day for me, because I wanted us to win, because I felt like the guys needed to see a win, and I wanted them to believe in the fact that I think we've got a pretty good team.... I want our guys to have the energy to complete this deal."
Completing the deal, according to Coles, would be to at least earn a high seed - and its first round bye - in the upcoming MAC tournament. With road games at rival Ohio and MAC-leader kent State on the road before a finale at home against resurging Buffalo, the RedHawks have their work cut out for them.
Southeast Missouri State (12-15, 8-5 Ohio Valley Conference) had lost five in a row and seven of their last eight before making the trek to Oxford. SEMS, however, stayed with Miami through much of the first half. Rac-Von Banks' tip-in at 12:10 made it 14-all, tying the game for the third time.
Much of the visiting RedHawks damage was done after offensive rebounds as SEMS outscored Miami 14-4 in second chance points during the first half. "I wasn't happy with that at all," said Coles, who noted SEMS scored just one field goal on its first attempt before intermission.
After falling behind by six points, South East Missouri cut the lead to one (22-21) with 8:01 remaining. Miami, however, went on a 13-3 run to forge a 35-24 halftime advantage.
Although SEMS cut the lead to eight (40-32) with 15:08 remaining, Miami began to pull away and enjoyed its biggest advantage of the day with a 24-point lead (62-38) with 4:10 left.
The hefty lead allowed Coles to substitute even more than he had during the rest of the game. Among those seeing more action Saturday was freshman Orlando Williams. The 6-4 freshman guard out of Princeton H.s. in Cincinnati, scored 11 points while hitting 4 of 5 from the field and 3 of 4 from behind the arc.
"Orlando's more than got the ability," said Coles, adding that freshmen are eager to play but have a lot to learn.
"I always tell them they can't make all-American today," Cole said. "Sometimes freshmen want to make all-American before 9 o'clock tonight. It's going to take a little big longer than that. But every kid in the country is like that."
One player who looked like he was pursuing freshman all-American for the day was Southeast Missouri State's Marland Smith. After entering the contest with a modest 9.2 ppg average, the 6-2 guard from Little Rock, Ark. erupted for 28 points.
"Coach Grunkemeyer (who scouted SEMS) said, 'Hey, he can shoot it,' but we didn't know he would shoot it like that. He was good," Coles said. "He's got such a quick release, and we were playing honest defense because we didn't know that much about their team. ... We did lose him three times and all three times he made us pay for it."
Smith, however, was the only SEMS Redhawk, to hit double figures. Jajuan Maxwell had nine points and LaQentin Maxwell scored four. Six other players had two points.
Miami put four players in double figures. Joining Williams (11) were Antonio Ballard (12), Julian Mavunga (11) and Kenny Hayes (10). Nick Winbush scored eight points, pulled down 13 rebounds and recorded three blocked shots as Miami tightened up its rebounding and inside game in the second stanza. The Oxford-based RedHawks owned a 42-31 final advantage on the boards and outscored SEMS 24-14 in the paint.
The next paint Miami sees in competition will be green, and the RedHawks quickly turned their attention to Wednesday's matchup against Ohio. "This (win) was good for us, because we've got to go play our rival - Ohio - next week, and that is kind of tough going down there. We just lost two tough league games and (we didn't want to be) going there with a losing taste in our mouth," Hayes said.
"It's getting 'big time' now," Coles said. "We're still fighting for that (first round MAC tourney) bye, but that's going to be tough for us."
"We have no margin of error," Coles continued. "We've got to play hard every night and hope that we can win. ... There is not a team left on our schedule that we can't beat, but there's also not a team left on our schedule that can't beat us. So we'll find out a lot about our team in these next three games."
"We've got to fight. We've got to have heart these next three games," Hayes said.
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