Despite a 12-point lead at the half, the UCF Knights Men’s Basketball team will be leaving Cincinnati with a 68-57 loss.
The Knights drop to 12-7 (3-4 Big 12), pulling even with the Bearcats (14-6, 3-4 Big 12) in the conference standings.
How did this all happen? How did UCF end up on the other end of a double-digit comeback? Let’s go over the key points:
A Tale of Two Halves
UCF had Cincinnati’s number in the first half or, to be more accurate, guards Jaylin Sellers and Marcellus Avery had Cincinnati’s number in the first half. The duo combined for 28 of the Knights’ 39 points in the first half.
In every UCF win in the Big 12, at least one Knight guard paired with Sellers for a double-digit scoring night. Antwann Jones did it with 13 points against West Virginia, Shemarri Allen did it with 17 points against Texas and Darius Johnson did it with 17 points against Kansas.
Tonight, Avery had 16 points in the first half alone, thanks to going 5-10 from the floor and 3-5 from three-point land. However, that player vanished in the second half. After accounting for 10 of the Knights’ 29 first-half shots, Avery had just three of 29 attempts in the second half, only scoring on one of them.
"It was a game of two halves. I don't think we could have played any better in the first half, offensively and defensively," UCF Head Coach Johnny Dawkins said. #Bearcats— Keegan Nickoson (@Knickoson42) January 28, 2024
Sellers’ impact was minimized as well, with his pair of three-point shots in the second half missing, unlike in the first half. This offensive breakdown caused the Knights to make just one of their last 11 shots from the floor.
“You have to play great basketball for 40 minutes to have a chance to win,” head coach Johnny Dawkins said after the game.
This opened the door for the Bearcats, who had their own dynamic duo in Dan Skillings Jr. and John Newman lll. In the latter half, Newman lll went a perfect 3-3 from the floor and 5-7 from the free-throw line for 11 points while Skillings Jr. went 6-8 from the floor to lead the Bearcats with 13 points.
Daniel Skilings is going to be a star in the Big 12. Separating himself as Cincinnati's best player. Bearcats come back to beat UCF at home.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) January 28, 2024
Look like an NCAA Tournament team.
Cincinnati extended that domination to the boards as well. Despite the absence of Viktor Lakhin, who ranks 4th in the Big 12 in rebounds, the Bearcats out-boarded the Knights 23-12 in the second half.
Johnny Dawkins, Jaylin Sellers recap 68-57 loss to Cincinnati pic.twitter.com/Q7rLPaoFjM— Ryan Roberts (@Ryan_Ky0203) January 28, 2024
Though, by that point, the Knights were missing a rebounder of their own.
Players Off the Floor
UCF SG Shemarri Allen (middle) is not dressed and in a boot as the Knights go through warmups. It appears he won’t play.— Keegan Nickoson (@Knickoson42) January 27, 2024
Allen rolled his ankle against WVU and had to be helped off the floor. He was later seen on crutches.
Averages 7.2 PPG. Scored 17 in UCF’s win over Texas. pic.twitter.com/eh5EPNry36
The Knights were already coming into the game a couple of men down. Guard Shemarri Allen was seen in a boot following his ankle roll against West Virginia and forward C.J. Walker ended up being held out as well. Dawkins said Walker was “probably day-to-day,” but he does not know a specific timetable for his return.
This seemed of no hindrance for the Knights in the first half though, even if they pulled fairly even with Cincinnati on the boards, 17-16.
However, UCF’s leading rebounder and Big 12-leading blocker Ibrahima Diallo was also effectively out of the game, playing only five minutes and not getting a single rebound before fouling out with 9:13 remaining in the game. He was also an important offensive piece in the Knights’ wins against Kansas and West Virginia.
Without players that gave the Knights the most presence in the paint, not only did the Bearcats win the battle at the boards, but they also won the scoring battle in the paint, 36-20.
The Free-Throw Line on the Road
Dawkins has said in the past how he wants to make more free throws than his opponent attempts. On Saturday night, the Bearcats did just that, going 17-25 from the charity stripe while the Knights went 7-9.
It’s the second-fewest times UCF has shot from the line this season and tied for the second-fewest made free throws of the season, keeping company with the Kansas State and Miami (FL) games, both road losses.
The Knights will be back in Addition Financial Arena on Wednesday at 7 p.m. to take on #15 Baylor (14-5, 3-3 Big 12).
The Bears are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation, sinking 40.9% of their shots behind the arc. They also come with RayJ Dennis, who ranks second in the Big 12 in assists, and Yves Missi ranked third in the conference in offensive rebounds per game.