OXFORD, Oh. – Slow starts have plagued IUPUI all season and Saturday afternoon was no different. Miami took a 14-point lead into the break and opened up a 21-point lead in the second half before IUPUI finally woke up. A 19-1 run pulled the Jaguars within three and they tied the game with under a minute to go. Miami made the play at the end though and IUPUI suffered their seventh road loss in eight tries, 71-68.
The IUPUI bench showed up with one of their best performances of the season against Miami. Led by D.J. McCall with 14 points and seven rebounds, the bench combined to shoot 10-for-15 for 25 points. Darell Combs hit a pair of big three-pointers in the final minutes for IUPUI and finished with 13 points. Matt O’Leary flirted with a double-double, but had his worst shooting night of the season going 3-for-11 for 11 points. The starters as a whole struggled to shoot; Evan Hall was the only starter to shoot over 50 percent and he took just two shots.
In the first half of IUPUI’s seven road losses this season their opponents have outscored them by over 10 points on average. They were even outscored 36-29 in their lone road win at Ball State. The Jaguars stayed competitive at Illinois and Illinois State after slow starts, but it didn’t seem likely this time.
Miami took a 42-28 lead into halftime and with 14 minutes to go in the second half, Bruno Solomun hit a 3-pointer to put them up 59-38. T.J. Henderson promptly responded with a 3-pointer, but then neither team could do anything for several minutes. Eventually McCall scored under the basket after an offensive rebound. Two possessions later he scored again on a dunk. After a missed 3-pointer from Miami, Kellon Thomas hit a 3-pointer and IUPUI trailed just 59-48. Thomas missed a 3-pointer but made up for it with a steal and assist to Patterson for a transition layup. With 7:09 left, Miami led just 59-50.
Two minutes later Thomas got another assist to Combs for a 3-pointer to pull IUPUI within five, 60-55. With the bench still celebrating, McCall stole the in-bounds pass right in front of them. He drove the lane and scored over a defender to pull within three points, forcing a Miami timeout. Over a stretch of nearly nine minutes, IUPUI outscored Miami 19-1 and turned a 21-point deficit into a three-point game.
After a pair of free throws from Michael Weathers, who finished with a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds, Miami was back up four points. Trailing 62-58 with four minutes left, Thomas drove in the lane from the left side, but had his shot blocked. He gathered the ball and found Combs open for a 3-pointer to cut the lead to one. Miami quickly jumped back up by six points, but the Jaguars came back again. McCall hit a jumper to cut the lead to three with 2:07 left . With 29 seconds to go Combs found Thomas open for a 3-pointer, tying the game 68-68. IUPUI pressed full-court after a timeout, but Miami broke the press and Rod Mills Jr. drove into the paint and scored with six seconds left. IUPUI got two desperation 3-point looks in the final seconds but came away empty-handed.
There’s something to be said for IUPUI’s fight in these close road games, but with better starts they could fight to hold onto their leads rather than to come back from first-half deficits. They allowed Miami to shoot almost 52 percent in the first half while turning the ball over almost twice as much.
The good news is the long road stretch is finally over and IUPUI will return home where they’ve won both their games this season. They’ll face Urbana Monday at 7 p.m.