The UCF Knights Men’s Basketball team concluded non-conference play by putting away Bethune-Cookman, 98-54, Friday night.
It was the highest-scoring game for the Knights (9-3) so far this season with five players scoring double-digit points with two more coming just one point shy of doing so.
“It just means that we’re all just connecting,” guard DeMarr Langford said after the game. “‘It’s we over me. It’s not your shot, it’s our shot,’ that’s what Coach preaches all the time, and they were a great team too, a lot of shots fell through tonight. When we’re on a roll, we’re a dangerous team.”
Guard Jaylin Sellers led the way for UCF, putting up 19 points thanks to 3-6 from beyond the arc and going 8-8 at the free-throw line.
Too many scorers, it’s hard to choose one pic.twitter.com/ICFzF6c9jf— UCF Men’s Hoops (@UCF_MBB) December 30, 2023
Joining Sellers among the quintet of double-digit scorers were guard Antwann Jones and forward C.J. Walker. Despite only playing for 8:23, Jones shot 4-6 from the floor and 2-2 from three-point land to put up 10 points in his fourth game in a UCF uniform. As for Walker, he went 4-8 and brought down five rebounds in his second game back from a knee injury.
“It’s good to have them back,” Sellers said. “They’re most definitely going to play a big role in what we got going on here, so it’s good for them to get in a roll right before the conference comes.”
The duo were part of a 51-point effort from the bench Friday night, which is the most a Knights bench has scored so far this season. UCF is now 8-1 in games in which it has outscored the opposing bench and 1-2 when it has not.
“We want to be able to rely on all our players that are in our rotation and I think tonight was a good example of that,” head coach Johnny Dawkins said. “I think everyone that came in the game really contributed in some way. Not all of them scored a lot, but they still made plays for us that we were looking for them to make.”
Putting Two Halves Together
While UCF’s offense improved on a 44-point first half with a 54-point second half, its defense allowed a similar improvement from the Wildcats (5-7), who improved on a 21-point first half with a 33-point second half. Dawkins said after the game that he did not think the team put two halves together Friday night.
“I thought we played well for probably 30 minutes of the game,” Dawkins said. “I thought we had a stretch there in the second half where we have to be better. We can’t have lapses like the one we had in the second half.”
Bethune-Cookman accomplished this not just by making four shots from beyond the arc, something it could not do in the first half, but also by creating more shooting opportunities, going 13-38 in the second half compared to a 5-21 first half.
“I think we just come out in the second half and we’re just not locked in, we think we got the game won already,” Langford said. “We’re not focused on that, so I think that’s the biggest thing. We got to keep that same intensity that we had in the first half coming into the game in the second half.”
On to Big 12 Play
The Knights will head into conference play ranked #70 in the NET rankings, up 13 spots thanks to Friday night’s win.
UCF will make its Big 12 play debut on the road against Kansas State. The Wildcats, also 9-3, sit #88 in the NET rankings, are coming off a 69-60 win over Wichita State and will have taken on Chicago State by the time the Knights come to town.
“We’re going to come out and we’re going to play hard,” Sellers said. “We’re going to play chippy. We’re never going to give up and we’re here to stay.”
Kansas State has gone 7-1 at home thus far this season, with its only loss coming to Nebraska, and currently ranks 11th in the Big 12 with 77 points per game, but is last in the conference with 70.6 points allowed per game.
Here’s what our top 25 defense has been up to— UCF Men’s Hoops (@UCF_MBB) December 30, 2023
10th in turnovers forced per game
16th in blocks per game
20th in steals per game
23rd in FG% defense pic.twitter.com/WloC2WuoL4
Fifth-year guard Tylor Perry will be one to watch, as he ranks 16th in the nation in free-throw percentage, second in the Big 12 in free throws and third in the conference in three-pointers made. The Wildcats also have the fifth and sixth-best rebounders in the league in senior David N’Guessan and junior Arthur Kaluma.
The game will tip off at 6:00 p.m. on Jan. 6 and will be broadcast on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.