Monday, February 23, 1998
RedHawks make MAC tourney

BY JOHN FAY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

OXFORD - Miami University did what it had to do Wednesday night against Bowling Green: win.

The 61-52 victory meant Miami didn't have to worry about tiebreakers and scoreboard watching.

Miami earned the seventh seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament. Miami would have been in anyway because Marshall lost at home to Akron, but Miami wanted to play its way in.

''It's a huge relief,'' forward Wally Szczerbiak said. ''With all the adversity, we knew if we were playing on Feb. 28, we'd be in good shape. We just had to get there somehow.''

Miami will go to second-seeded Western Michigan for a 2 p.m. game Saturday. The winner of that game advances to the MAC semifinals in Toledo on Tuesday. Marshall goes as the eighth seed.

Szczerbiak led Miami with 24 points, and Damon Frierson added 22 and four assists.

''Give the credit to them,'' MU coach Charlie Coles said.

John Estick had 10 rebounds, as MU ruled the boards 37-30.

Just getting into MAC tourney may not seem like much for Miami - given the high expectations of the 6-1 start and the upset of then-No. 7 Xavier - but RedHawks are just happy to still be playing. The season has been a long struggle with injuries, defections and disappointments.

''We'll take it,'' Coles said. ''This is right where we thought we'd be when the injury (to Szczerbiak) happened. We knew we'd be on the road for the playoffs.''

Miami is the team everyone in the MAC wants to avoid. The RedHawks are 5-2 since Szczerbiak returned.

''We're playing well on defense,'' Szczerbiak said. ''If we can knock down some shots like at the beginning, we can do some damage. We can beat the really good teams.''

Wednesday night was typical of that. Miami had a 10-point lead eight minutes into the second half but let it slip away.

The Falcons made it a one-point game with 4:33 left and it looked as if 4:33 was all that was left in Miami's season.

But Frierson and Szczerbiak saved Miami.

''We knew if it got tight, they had two players who could make plays,'' BGSU coach Dan Dakich said. ''Frierson and Szczerbiak took over the game.''

Frierson converted a conventional three-point play on Miami's next possession.

Then, after a pair of Bowling Green free throws, Szczerbiak hit a three-pointer.

''That was a set play,'' Szczerbiak said. ''I was struggling, but I'll take the big one at the end.''

After BGSU's Dave Esterkamp missed a three-pointer and Szczerbiak rebounded, Frierson hit a layup and was fouled. He made the free throw.

That made it 53-45 with 2:28 to go. BGSU made one last run, but MU held on.

Miami (15-11, 9-9 in the MAC) has its first three-game winning streak since the RedHawks won six in a row in December.

Bowling Green could have gotten in the MAC tourney with a win. Instead, the loss eliminates BGSU (10-16, 7-11) from the MAC tourney for the first time since the 1985-86 season.

It was BGSU's 11th straight loss at Millett.

Miami appeared to take control of this one early. The RedHawks went out to a 23-14 lead behind 10 points from Szczerbiak.

But the RedHawk offense went into a funk with Frierson on the bench with two fouls.

Szczerbiak also cooled considerably. He hit four of his first six shots, then missed his last four of the half.

The second half was no easier.

''But that's the way it is with this team,'' Coles said. ''We have holes, and people are going to exploit them.''

Western Michigan is 20-6 and 14-4 in the conference. Miami lost 63-47 to at Western on Jan. 5, the first game Szczerbiak missed with the fractured wrist.

''We've got to make that fun,'' Coles said. ''I don't know if that's fun . . . I want to go into this game with a free spirit. Hey, we beat 'em three times last year.

''Maybe we'll get a lead and the building will fall in.''

The strategy?

''I think the answer is for Szczerbiak to score 45 points, and for Frierson to chip in with 28 . . . I'm not going to worry about who isn't going to score I'm going to worry about who does score.''

Notebook: Szczerbiak two shy of 1,000

BOWLING GREEN (52)
                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Esterkamp       39  3-10   0-0   2-5  2  5    7
Crespo          17   0-0   0-1   1-2  2  3    0
Cowan           38  5-12   0-1   2-6  0  2   10
Moore           33   3-9   2-2   0-1  4  4   11
Reid            29  5-11   0-0   0-2  0  4   11
Keys            25   3-5   5-6   0-5  0  3   11
Furlin           1   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Black           18   1-3   0-0   0-2  0  1    2
_______________________________________________
TOTALS         200 20-50  7-10  5-23  8 22   52
_______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.400, FT-.700. 3-Point Goals:
5-20, .250 (Esterkamp 1-5, Cowan 0-3, Moore 3-5,
Reid 1-4, Keys 0-1, Black 0-2). Team rebounds: 7.
Blocked shots: 1 (Cowan). Turnovers: 17
(Esterkamp 4, Reid 4, Cowan 3, Black 2, Crespo 2,
Keys 2). Steals: 7 (Black 4, Crespo, Esterkamp,
Moore).

MIAMI  (61)
                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Lethunya        25   0-2   0-0   3-3  0  2    0
Estick          39   1-4   4-4  2-10  1  3    6
Szczerbiak      40  9-20   5-6   2-4  1  4   24
Taylor          39  4-11   0-0   0-1  2  2    9
Frierson        31  6-12 10-12   2-9  4  3   22
Chapman          2   0-0   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Lackaff          8   0-1   0-0   0-0  0  1    0
Ensminger       16   0-1   0-1   1-5  0  2    0
_______________________________________________
TOTALS         200 20-51 19-23 10-32  8 17   61
_______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.392, FT-.826. 3-Point Goals:
2-10, .200 (Szczerbiak 1-5, Taylor 1-4, Lackaff
0-1). Team rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 4
(Szczerbiak 4). Turnovers: 14 (Estick 5, Taylor
5, Frierson 3, Szczerbiak). Steals: 5 (Ensminger,
Estick, Lethunya, Szczerbiak, Taylor).
__________________________________
Bowling Green      24   28  -   52
Miami              27   34  -   61
__________________________________
Technical fouls: None.  A: 4,486. Officials: Jd
Collins, Craig Griffith, Glen Horner.

Miami game coverage

Miami 71, Marshall 60 Feb. 22, 1998
Akron 74, Miami 63 Feb. 15, 1998
Kent 58, Miami 52 Feb. 12, 1998
Miami 74, Northern Illinois 71 Feb. 8, 1998
Miami 73, Ball State 67 Feb. 6, 1998
Eastern Michigan 71, Miami 67 Feb. 1, 1998
Toledo 63, Miami 50 Jan. 30, 1998
Miami 73, Ohio 58 Jan. 25, 1998
Miami 71, Marshall 54 Jan. 22, 1998
Kent 66, Miami 65 Jan. 18, 1998
Akron 64, Miami 51 Jan. 15, 1998
Toledo 76, Miami 56 Jan. 11, 1998
Miami 72, Eastern Michigan 64 Jan. 9, 1998
Western Michigan 63, Miami 47 Jan. 6, 1998
Miami 81, Central Michigan 65 Jan. 4, 1998
Bowling Green 72, Miami 59 Dec. 30, 1997
Syracuse 72, Miami 53 Dec. 14, 1997
Miami 71, LaSalle 66 Dec. 13, 1997
Miami 80, Xavier 72 Dec. 10, 1997
Miami 85, Virginia Commonwealth 75 Dec. 7, 1997
Miami 102, IUPUI 75 Dec. 2, 1997
Miami 66, Wisconsin-Green Bay 46 Nov. 26, 1997
Miami 94, Dayton 86 Nov. 23, 1997
Tennessee 75, Miami 74 Nov. 18, 1997