Winning a game in conference isn’t easy.
Winning a road game in conference is legitimately difficult.
Winning a road game in conference versus a truly desperate team, well, that challenge proved to be too much for the UCF Knights men’s basketball team Wednesday night.
The Knights went down in defeat to the Wichita State Shockers, 75-67. The result ended UCF’s seven-game win streak — the program’s longest since 2011 — as well as the Shockers’ four-game losing streak — their longest since 2009.
The final margin is slightly misleading; This was a very entertaining, one-point game with less than three minutes to play. But as was the story of the night, WSU kept UCF at bay by making big shot after big shot, often with a heightened degree of difficulty. You’d never know that the Shockers ranked last in the AAC in field-goal percentage prior to the game.
Three in the Key
1. Game-Changing Plays
Two sequences keep popping out when I think about how UCF lost this game.
The first came at the very end of the first half when Dayon Griffin got drawn off his feet and inadvertently fouled the Shockers’ Jamarius Burton, who created the contact by jumping into Griffin while shooting a 3. As it was, Burton got three free throws, hit ‘em all and turned a five-point game into an eight-point game at the half.
Second was a missed rebound by Aubrey Dawkins — he got both of his hands on the rock but just let it slip away — with a little more than a minute left and the Knights trailing by four. If Dawkins secures that rebound, the Knights could come down, get a basket and really put a lot of pressure on Wichita State on its next trip.
Instead, the ball fell to Markis McDuffie, who Dawkins fouled immediately. McDuffie made two free throws, and you knew it was going to be really tough for UCF to dig out of a six-point hole with so little time left. McDuffie led all players with 23 points and made a bevy of contested jumpers. Tip your cap to the senior.
2. More on the Boards
Dawkins’ missed rebound was just one example of what has turned into a considerable problem for UCF. They lost that facet of the game 35-22 overall and 8-6 on the offensive end. Wichita State is a middle-of-the-pack rebounding team, but UCF’s own rebounding prowess has been inconsistent of late. Between this and free-throw shooting, there’s plenty to work on.
3. You Know it’s Not Your Night When ...
... an opposition player who rarely sees the floor turns into an offensive weapon. That’s the transformation sophomore center Asbjorn Midtgaard underwent in this game. Coming in, he was 5-for-9 from the field for the season.
Within the first 13 minutes of Wednesday’s game, he had nailed all three shots he had taken for a quick six points. That development sent what was already a raucous sold-out crowd into a frenzy, and those 10,000+ definitely gave the Shockers emotional lifts throughout the contest.
Knight of the Night
Once again, it was Aubrey Dawkins, who has been incredibly consistent offensively. He has registered double-digit points in each of the team’s 16 games thus far. And, once again, we saw the presence of “Second Half Aubrey.” I’ll delve into this phenomenon more deeply at a later time, but Dawkins has taken over games after halftime quite often this season. Just as an example, look at his past three performances:
Sixteen of his 23 points at UConn came in the second half.
Sixteen of his 18 points versus East Carolina came in the second half.
Sixteen of his 22 points at Wichita State came in the second half.
So, I guess we can pencil Dawkins in for 16 points after the break on Saturday against Tulsa.
The Big Number
It’s just one loss, UCF’s first in conference. It drops them from first to fourth in the American. And, yeah, I know you want every win, and this one could have gone in the “W” column if just a couple of plays had gone differently. But understand what the Knights were up against.
Wichita State is rebuilding, but it is also one of college basketball’s winningest programs in the past handful of years. Gregg Marshall is one of the best coaches in America, and you knew that he and his team were going to come out with great ferocity — amped up even more by that home crowd — in order to wash away this unfamiliar losing streak. Desperate teams pull out all the stops.
That’s what happened here. And when you combine the Shockers’ energy with some crazy shot-making, the other team is probably going to lose no matter what it does. The Knights were actually 2.5-point favorites for this game and didn’t play all that poorly. It’s just that Wichita State was great, uncharacteristically so at times. It happens. You move on.
The Knights are in the middle of an 18-day stretch that contains six games. Besides the completed games versus ECU and WSU, the Knights will also play Tulsa and UConn at home as well as Tulane and Memphis on the road. I thought going into this period that if the Knights came away at 4-2, that would be fine. That’s what I expect. 5-1 would be awesome. Going undefeated wasn’t realistic.
Right now, they are 1-1 and even in the shadow of a defeat, I feel very confident UCF will at least match that 4-2 expectation. I think next Sunday’s road game versus Memphis will decide if this stretch is merely good or amazing.