When members of the UCF Knights Men’s Basketball team spoke on Tuesday about their loss on Sunday to the SMU Mustangs, they all hit on the same primary shortcoming. Cheikh Mbacke Jiong, Darin Green, and head coach Johnny Dawkins all mentioned that posting only five team assists that afternoon was not their brand of basketball. It was assumed by fans that improving that number would assure sweeping the Temple Owls on Wednesday in American Athletic Conference play. This was not the case.
Leading 30-29 at the half, the Knights had already hit the five-assist mark. Point guard Darius Perry would have four assists on his own before the night was out to go with his team-high 14 points.
UCF then opened the second half with a 7-0 run. One could think a positive result was all but inevitable, and yet Temple found a way to overcome a deficit that was as high as 11 in the second half while missing two top players and their head coach on the sideline.
In the postgame interview, Perry diagnosed his squad's issues that led to the tough loss.
Perry mentioned the team fouling too much. It’s not so much the 18 fouls committed by UCF. The Owls never made it to 1-and-1 bonuses in the first half as Knights did; it’s the fact that 12 of them were committed in the second half to give Temple ammunition towards the comeback.
Moreover, fouls are usually a sign of sluggishness on defense. The antithesis of the energy on every single play that the veteran point guard also alludes to as a key to the Knights’ success in their wins.
With the COVID-19 postponement of Saturday’s outing featuring the Tusla Golden Hurricane at home, the Knights have a week to practice up to take the court Wednesday night. They’ll be hosting a strong Memphis Tigers in Addition Financial Arena at 7 pm EST.
While coach Dawkins and players alike would prefer to be playing, this could offer the preparation necessary to win the day against the Tigers. It’s that kind of a victory they’ll need to cancel out the horrid taste that fans have in their mouths.
After all, Perry himself testifies that the key to overcoming this loss is a short memory. And while it is a platitude among sports cliches, he’s correct. But as quickly as the nation at large (UCF fans included) seems to have forgotten about the big win against the Michigan Wolverines, a win against Memphis could remind people that it is only January in a season that lasts into March.
That current talk from social media about this defeat being among the worst in Dawkins career. And yet the fan anger that could be forgotten and replaced with the promise of “Madness” of going into the NCAA tournament offered back at the beginning of the season.
After all, regardless of the final seconds of the match involving Perry dribbling off of his foot for a turnover or Tyem Freeman giving up the heldball with 14 seconds left, it could be argued that if the Knights were playing the brand of basketball coach Dawkins preaches, this evening they could help the fans recall that this is a talented team.
There were some objectively bright spots. Dijong had 12 points with three blocks on the night in a game where both a post player and a perimeter player had double digits in scoring. Dawkins acknowledged that turnovers weren’t too bad giving up 10 while forcing 13. Both of these stats are an indicator that not only can the Knights play with energy, but that this is a team that is built on a depth of talent. . . they just need to do it during an entire game including when crunch time comes along.