Wednesday, February 10, 1999

Miami begins road to crown

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Miami University is about a Wally Szczerbiak jump shot from clinching the Mid-American Conference regular-season title. But the RedHawks are going to have to beat some of the MAC's best to get there.

        That starts tonight with Ball State at Muncie, Ind. The Cardinals (14-7, 8-5) are tied for first in the MAC West.

        “They've got a good team,” Miami coach Charlie Coles said, “and they're going to be waiting on us. That's the way it's going to be the rest of the way. But I think that's good for our team.”

        Miami has a 21/2-game lead over Kent in the overall MAC standings. But four of the Red- Hawks' five remaining games are against teams within 11/2 games of second place overall. Miami has Eastern Michigan at home Saturday, then goes to Toledo (Feb. 17) and Bowling Green (Feb. 20). They come home for the season finale against Kent (Feb. 24).

        Of those teams only Eastern is out of contention.

        A win tonight and Saturday would clinch at tie for first place overall in the MAC and thus the top seed for tournament.

        With the wacky MAC schedule Miami only plays at Ball State. The Cardinals do not come to Oxford. And Ohio, Miami's other big rival, only came to Oxford. The RedHawks do not go to Athens.

        “We should play both twice,” Coles said. “I told the league people they really, really have to try to allow for Ball State and Ohio playing Miami twice every year. That's exciting for our league. There's no love lost between those teams. Rivalries are good for the league.”

        The RedHawks (17-4, 12-1) are No. 24 in the Rating Percentage Index, which is used to determine seeds for NCAA Tournament. But Coles still refuses to declare his team in.

        “I don't even think about it,” he said. “What I worry about is getting better as a team if we can. We may get in the NCAA Tournament or we may not.”

        A strong finish will guarantee RedHawks a spot in the 64-team NCAA bracket and possibly their highest seed ever. Miami's best is an eight seed in 1984.

        But the road in the MAC can be difficult. Miami escaped with a win Saturday at Western Michigan, needing Jason Grun kemeyer's buzzer-beater to do so.

        “What I think a win like that does is make everyone want to contribute,” Coles said. “It makes us more of a team. Guys say, "If I can get a rebound or set a pick, I might help us win.'

        “We'll take the winning shot from anybody. But Grunk is the one guy everybody likes, everyone responds to. He's the most team-oriented guy we have.”

        Ball State lost 1998 MAC Player of the Year Bonzi Wells from last year's 21-8 team.

        This year's team is more balanced. The leading scorer is Duane Clemens, a 6-foot guard.

        “He's really come along,” Coles said.

        • Tipoff: 7 p.m.

        • Where: University Arena (11,000), Muncie, Ind.

        • Records: Miami 17-4, 12-1; Ball State 14-7, 8-5

        • TV: None.

        • Radio: WCKY (1360-AM), WMOH (1450 AM), WFMC (101.3-FM), WYLX (97.3-FM)


        • 49: Number of straight games Ball State has won when holding its opponents at 60 or fewer points

        • 3: Number of times Miami has been held at 60 points or fewer (The RedHawks are 1-2 in those games)

        • 775: Miami's free throw percentage, second in the nation


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