Miami sees MAC tourney as new opportunity
The RedHawks hope to salvage something from their lost season when the Mid-American Conference tournament opens Monday at Toledo.
A 63-54 loss to Ohio on March 3 ended the regular season on a down note that has become all too familiar. The defeat dropped Miami to 9-20 overall and 5-11 in the league. When sophomore center Drew McGhee called the season "unbelievably frustrating," he wasn't kidding. Nine of the MAC losses were by a total of 49 points, and only two were by double figures.
The RedHawks know the only way to redeem themselves is to do well in the tournament, as slim as those chances may seem.
"The older guys have told us that (the MAC tourney) is a fresh start." freshman guard Brian Sullivan said in the Oxford (Ohio) Press. "With a run in the tournament, all this frustration and regular-season losses mean less. All this adversity has done nothing but prep us for the conference tournament."
Coach Charlie Coles, in what might be the final season of his illustrious career, has endured a difficult year. Not only has he seen three key players sidelined by injuries and legal issues, but he also was hospitalized late last month with recurring health problems.
Still, Coles has maintained a positive approach even though guard Allen Roberts and forward Bill Edwards sustained season-ending injuries and guard Orlando Williams was dismissed after being arrested on suspicion of burglary. Coles, who has a long history of heart problems, missed a game late last month because of a virus.
"We've played some good basketball this year," he said in the Press. "It's amazing the good basketball we've played, but we haven't been able to win a lot of games."
Coles believes the losses have taken their toll on the RedHawks' psyche.
"You've got to have tough guys," he said in the Press. "If we can come mentally ready to play, I think we can cause some damage."
Turnovers remain a major issue
--Miami's inability to take care of the basketball has been a problem all season, and it continued March 3. The RedHawks committed 17 turnovers and had only 11 assists. Miami had 394 turnovers and 336 assists in 29 regular-season games. Point guard Quinten Rollins (91 assists to 68 turnovers) and forward Jon Harris (47 assists to 35 turnovers) were the only players with significant playing time who had more assists than turnovers. Incredibly, the team numbers were better than last season, when the RedHawks had 456 turnovers and 364 assists.
--Miami was dominated on the boards against Ohio. The RedHawks were outrebounded 34-26, but that tells only part of the story. Miami allowed 15 offensive rebounds, which led to 14 second-chance points. Julian Mavunga leads the team with an average of 9.1 rebounds, but no other player was averaging more than 5.6 rebounds.
--Senior forward Julian Mavunga, playing his final regular-season game, scored eight points and had nine rebounds against Ohio. He was 3-for-13 from the field, committed seven turnovers and had eight assists. Mavunga was removed from the game with 23 seconds remaining by coach Charlie Coles so he could get one final ovation from the home fans.
Mavunga also played in his 123rd career game, setting a new Miami record. He led the Mid-American Conference with averages of 16.6 points and 9.1 rebounds in the regular season. A legitimate case can be made for Mavunga to be the conference's Player of the Year, but Miami's 9-20 record and last-place finish in the East Division certainly won't help his chances.
BY THE NUMBERS: 20 -- The RedHawks (9-20 through March 4) set a program record for losses in a season and finished last in the Mid-American Conference East Division. That doesn't include a 5-23 record in the 1988-89 season when Miami had to forfeit eight wins.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've never had a team this bad that's played this good. We've just been hitting places where it was going to be hard to go, but my kids keep fighting." -- Miami coach Charlie Coles, after Saturday's loss to Ohio dropped his team to 9-20.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Toledo, MAC tournament opening round, March 5
KEY MATCHUPS: The 10th-seeded RedHawks go on the road to face the seventh- seeded Rockets in the opening round of the Mid-American Conference tournament. Miami fell at home to Toledo by a 63-61 score on Jan. 25. The RedHawks cut a nine-point deficit with about five minutes remaining to two. Miami came up with a steal in the final seconds but turned the ball over as time expired. Julian Mavunga scored 14 points and had 11 rebounds, while Brian Sullivan added 13 points and hit four 3-pointers. Guards Rian Pearson (23 points) and Curtis Dennis (17 points) led Toledo. The winner advances to the second round at Quicken Loans Arena.
FUTURES MARKET: Speculation continues that coach Charlie Coles will retire at the end of the season. He brought up the subject in January, and the talk has increased since then, especially after he was hospitalized with a virus for a few days last month. Coles admitted after the March 3 game with Ohio that he's trying to say goodbye, but he doesn't know how to do it. The poor season has obviously taken its toll on the veteran coach. Coles and assistant coach Jermaine Henderson had an argument late in the March 3 game. In the postgame press conference, Coles also expressed frustration with his players and the state of officiating in general. Miami's season will end with its next loss. It would be no surprise if Coles' career does, too.
--Freshman G Brian Sullivan struggled with his shooting for the second straight game March 3. He scored 11 points but was 3-for-11 from the field and made only one of his six 3-point attempts. Sullivan was scoreless against Bowling Green in the previous game. He was 0-for-7 from the field and missed all five 3-pointers.
--Senior F Adam Thomas' name won't be prominently displayed in the school's record book, but he deserves points for perseverance. He played a total of 33 minutes, scoring eight points with four rebounds in his first three seasons with the team. Thomas finally got his chance this season and made a contribution. He started five times, averaging 11.1 minutes, 2.3 points and 2.2 rebounds in 25 games. Thomas scored 10 points and had five rebounds in 33 minutes in his final regular-season game.