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UCF Men’s Basketball Restores Order with Win Over SMU

Aubrey Dawkins and free-throw shooting (!!!) headline crucial AAC road victory

Guard Aubrey Dawkins went for a UCF career-high 26 points on Sunday at SMU.
Derek Warden/Black and Gold Banneret

We’ve wondered throughout the season about the UCF Knights’ inability to start fast and hit free throws consistently. On Sunday in Dallas, in what was essentially a must-win game, the Knights turned those issues into strengths and took care of the SMU Mustangs, 71-65.

Highlights

Three in the Key

1. Starting fast

Far too often this year, the Knights have fallen behind early and have forced themselves to play catch-up. On Sunday, UCF grabbed a 14-5 advantage within the first five minutes, largely on the back of Tacko Fall, who went to work in the paint and picked up eight quick points. Then UCF did the same coming out of halftime, stretching an eight-point lead to 12.

Yes, the Mustangs made their runs, but seeing the Knights be the more energetic team from the jump was laudable simply because it’s been rare, especially of late.

2. Eat your heart out, Mark Price!

Speaking of rare, UCF made 12 of 13 free throws on Sunday. Even stranger was the fact that Tacko Fall (29.1 percent) and Chad Brown (53.7) and Collin Smith (61.4) went a perfect 8-for-8 from the stripe.

Is this an outlier? Most likely, yes. The Knights are obviously not this good from the line; no teams really are. But I also think they are not as bad as many fans believe. There are stats that back that up, which I’ll write about this week.

3. Aubrey Dawkins gets locked back in

Dawkins was frankly due for a game like this after a three-game stretch where he shot 8-for-31 from the field. He nailed his first two shots — both 3-pointers — and rolled from there. He ended with a UCF career-high 26 points on 9-for-12 shooting, including 4-for-6 from deep.

Knight of the Night

Aubrey was fantastic, but I think someone else was more impressive. I could give this to B.J. Taylor, who facilitated well and had a solid game despite not being much of a factor offensively; he scored just eight points and took a single shot in the first half, but he recorded seven assists. This honor looked like it was going to go to Fall with how he began the game, but then he didn’t get a shot attempt in the second half after dominating for most of the 20 minutes (inexplicable).

Nope, this goes to Collin Smith. The 6-foot-11 forward showed sweet footwork, a smooth jumper, good movement without the ball to set up baskets and strong rebounding position. He finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and a steal.

Beyond what he did today, Smith’s contributions gave us a glimpse at just how good the redshirt sophomore can be. This program is headed into a new era after this season as Taylor, Fall and Brown all move on. Smith will have to carry a lot of the burden without them. On this day, on the road against a decent opponent, he proved that he has the ability to be a star.

Not to Mention ...

In a effort of full disclosure, the Mustangs were without their best player for most of today’s game. Jahmal McMurray, who was averaging 18.3 points per game, played just five minutes off the bench and went 0-for-3 from the field.

Head coach Tim Jankovich made it seem like McMurray’s restriction was part rest, part punishment. Whatever the case, not having him around certainly made the task easier for UCF’s defense. And they already had their hands full with a team that launched 37 3-pointers.

Who’s Got Next?

The South Florida Bulls will visit CFE Arena on Wednesday night. While the Knights wouldn’t mind a repeat of their Sunday afternoon performance, USF will be looking to play better than it did Sunday night versus East Carolina. The Bulls escaped in overtime at home against the conference’s second-worst team.

Given UCF’s current NCAA Tournament profile, meetings this week at home versus the Bulls and the Tigers are two games they can’t afford to lose. That was the same deal heading into Sunday afternoon’s tilt, and the Knights earned the desired result.