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Full team effort lands UCF in win column to open season

A full team effort was needed in today’s win.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Duke vs UCF Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

A flurry of faces old and new combined to net the UCF Knights a 73-69 win against the Prairie View A&M Panthers to open the hoops season.

UCF played ten men deep with all but three Knights making their debut for Johnny Dawkins’ squad.

The Knights raced out to a double digit lead in the middle of the first half by sinking four of their first ten threes.

Senior guard Ceasar DeJesus knocked down two of those early threes and ended the day with 11 points.

“Ceasar has worked so hard,” coach Johnny Dawkins said. “It’s nice to see him get rewarded for that by seeing the ball go in. He’s a lot more confident in what he’s doing out there.”

The Knights would take a 36-25 lead into halftime, but the team came out of the second half colder than the football team’s second half offense against Tulsa.

Prairie View began to find their rhythm and completely erase their 11-point halftime deficit in seven and a half minutes, in large part to Chancellor Ellis’s shooting from deep.

Ellis finished with a game-high 29 points on 8-12 shooting from distance.

The Panthers’ lead jumped to as large as five with 9:14 to go, but the Knights charged on back with bounce back plays from several role players.

Junior transfer Brandon Mahan, who was not announced to be eligible until moments before tipoff, scored 12 off the bench on 4-6 shooting.

True freshman Darin Green Jr. scored eight points down the stretch, including two big threes late in the second half.

JUCO junior center Avery Diggs came up with some big plays on the defensive end as he clogged the paint for the opponent.

But the game truly shifted back in favor of the Knights around the 7-minute mark when Frank Bertz hit back-to-back triples to put UCF back ahead by four points. The Knights never trailed again in the contest.

“[Frank Bertz] didn’t shoot the ball well at first,” Alabama transfer Dazon Ingram said. “But I just told him to keep shooting.”

It’s a very good thing Ingram told Bertz to keep shooting — and it paid off. Ingram appears to be a big leader for the team. He started at point guard in the contest and scored a team-high 16 points while grabbing a team-high seven rebounds.

Another player that stepped up for the Knights this season is junior big Collin Smith, who scored 14 points and dished a team-high four assists. Smith’s role this season is vastly different than the one he played a year ago as Tacko Fall’s frontcourt-mate.

“[The new role] allows me to be more versatile,” Smith said. “I think it shows off my playmaking abilities as well as my finishing abilities.”

Players are still trying to figure out their roles and Coach Dawkins will need to figure out how the team can work together. Nonetheless, the team showed that its strength is the team itself rather than one of two players.

From today’s win, we learned that UCF is still a work in progress, but that there is reason for hope. On a team with nine newcomers, kinks are going to need to be ironed out early in the season.

The Knights get another crack to iron out these kinks Tuesday when the Miami Hurricanes come to town. Tipoff is at 9 PM EST.