That’s how UCF Knights head coach Johnny Dawkins graded his team’s season a little more than a week after the college basketball season came to a halt nationwide.
Really, almost every team gets an “i” grade because of how this season arrived at such an abrupt, early end date.
But at least for the Knights, their year ended with an emphatic win, and that’s where we’ll begin this recap of UCF’s transitional 2019-20 campaign.
Best Overall Performance
The Knights literally saved their best for last.
They set season-highs in points, 3-pointers, assists and field-goal percentage in a 94-62 demolition of the East Carolina Pirates. Their senior trio — Matt Milon, Dazon Ingram and Frank Bertz — all had their moments on Senior Knight. Darin Green Jr. set the program’s single-season record for 3-pointers by a freshman, and Dawkins finally got those 40 minutes of complete basketball that he had been looking for all year.
Plus, Ryan Anders became the answer to a trivia question: Who scored the final points of this UCF season? When the sophomore walk-on drained a corner 3 in the final minutes, it produced perhaps the loudest roar from the home crowd.
If the Knights could have possibly transferred how they played on that day into the American Athletic Conference Tournament, who knows how far they could have advanced in Fort Worth, Texas.
While that was UCF’s best single-game effort, any suspense was gone by halftime. That definitely wasn’t the case on Feb. 19 at Cincinnati, where the Knights took part in not only the best men’s basketball game of the season, but the early front-runner for the best UCF Athletics game of 2020.
Forty minutes weren’t enough to decide matters. Neither were 45. The Knights had to go through double overtime in order to knock off the first-place Bearcats in their own building, a place where the UCF had never achieved victory. The contest featured clutch shots, wild swings in momentum, unexpected star performances and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that was just a hair too late.
The fact that this followed an embarrassing home loss for UCF less than a week earlier was showcase example of how unpredictable the AAC was this season.
Best Single-Game Performance by a Player
Let’s stay in Cincy for our next award because even though there were some other dominant showings, I think the winner here is a no-brainer.
Freshman guard Tony Johnson Jr. was forced into a bigger role that night because Dazon Ingram was too sick to play. Before then, Johnson hadn’t played more than 16 minutes in any game and had scored a total of 31 points.
Here was his final line in the 89-87 win:
47 minutes, 21 points, nine rebounds, six assists, six steals, six turnovers.
It wasn’t pristine, but you can’t overlook that kind of box score-stuffing on the road by a greenhorn facing the No. 1 team in the conference.
“The whole time, everybody, we said we were going to win the game,” Johnson recalled after that game. “... Our faith never wavered. We knew we were going home with the W.”
Ingram gets an honorable mention for his near-triple-double at Tulane (15 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists). Green had a couple of outings when he was scorching from 3-point range, and Collin Smith had a bunch of stellar games.
But given the player, the place, the opponent and the outcome, I don’t think anything tops Johnson’s do-it-all evening.
Dawkins covered topics including the abrupt end to the season, the departure of Ceasar DeJesus, a year without the NCAA Tournament and extra eligibility for winter-sport athletes. #UCF https://t.co/ukdiknfcyb— Black & Gold Banneret (@UCF_Banneret) March 28, 2020
This may have been a tougher choice if Dre Fuller Jr. didn’t need season-ending hip surgery in February. But as it was, Darin Green Jr. had a season for the record books.
A gigantic snub for the AAC’s All-Freshman Team, the North Carolina native made 68 treys, an all-time UCF record for any frosh. Green fought through the typical peaks and valleys in his debut season, but he wrapped the year on a roll, hitting 43 of his last 87 3-point attempts. He basically ended up being the 40%+ sharpshooter that the Knights thought they would get in Milon.
And between Green, Fuller and Johnson, you can see the foundation of what can be UCF’s next NCAA Tournament team.
Every pick here has their warts, but I think you still have to go with Collin Smith. He was the straw that stirred the drink on offense, with a possession rate of 30.4% during conference play, the second-highest among any AAC player. He was first or second on the team in points, rebounds, blocks, steals and third in assists. Defensively, his knack to seemingly draw a charge in every game — he did take 30 charges in 30 games — was incredible.
Just imagine what Smith could have accomplished if he wasn’t consistently dogged by foul trouble. If he can approve his ability to defend without fouling and stay away from those pesky frustration fouls, his ceiling is sky-high as a senior.
I can’t pore over every game, but when considering this category, two plays immediately popped up in my mind.
- This on-target launch from Tony Johnson Jr. to beat the halftime buzzer at Wichita State:
2. One I can’t find a video for, but this was an incredibly athletic and smooth series of events:
Under-16 TO: #UCF up 50-40. Collin Smith just picked up his 3rd foul, but he made the highlight of the game. He saved a ball from going out of bounds by tossing it behind the back while flying out of bounds. He nearly ended up in the crowd. Darin Green got the ball and hit a 3.— Brian Murphy (@Spokes_Murphy) February 22, 2020
I know that tweet doesn’t do it justice, but you’ll have to trust me. Collin just flung the ball behind him while carrying so much momentum out of bounds that he ended up running into the railing separating the stands from the floor. The ball rolled back to Green, who was wide open for the 3. It was spectacular.
But I’m sure there are plays I’m overlooking here. Let me know in the comments!
Most Thrilling Finish
By the end of the UCF-USF meeting in Orlando in January, I imagine most fans had bitten off all of their fingernails. The Bulls and the Knights played within one possession of each other for most of the final 15 minutes. Ingram made some pressure-packed free throws down the stretch to give UCF a lead, which it held on to thanks to this defensive stand with 11 seconds remaining:
"...and USF just got slimed"— UCF Men’s Hoops (@UCF_MBB) January 19, 2020
Most Ridiculous Finish
There was that half-court game-winner that wasn’t by Cincinnati’s Jarron Cumberland. And blowing a seven-point lead in the final 90 seconds at home against last-place Tulane was pretty ridiculous, but that doesn’t quite fit the heading’s definition.
How about this: When is a 3-pointer not a 3-pointer? When there are four shooting arc lines on the court and you’re not sure which one is the right one.
That uncertainty doomed the Knights against the Penn Quakers during their Thanksgiving tournament in Anaheim, Calif.
Green sank a 3 from the corner at the buzzer that appeared to send the game into overtime. As UCF players began to celebrate, the officials reviewed the play and downgraded the shot from a three to a two. Knights lose, 68-67.
It was the right call, but one that had to be made only because of horrible court design. The court inside the Anaheim Convention Center had four 3-point lines — the high school line, the old college line, the new college line enacted this season, and the NBA line.
Green was behind the first two arcs, but his toes were on the third. Dawkins wouldn’t use the confusion as an excuse for the loss afterward, only saying, “I definitely think when you have that many lines out there on the court, it’s easy to kind of misjudge one for another. But that’s just part of the game.”
In February, Milon was a little more candid about the silliness of the whole ordeal.
“It’s supposed to be a big tournament and you’ve got four lines on the court,” he said then. “There’s a high school line on the court, I guess if you have high school games there and things, but if you’re going to have a college game, it’s really confusing for the players.
“It would be nice if there was just one line on there to worry about.”
Line-gate kept what was a successful three-game trip out west from being perfect for UCF.
You already know.
They say too much of a good thing isn’t good for you. Let’s test that adage by seeing UCF Space Game unis in all sports.
Although the Knights scored the game’s first 19 points and led by 19 at the half against SMU on March 4, they had to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with late free throws from Smith and Brandon Mahan.
I asked both men after the game what it takes to step up and make those shots when the whole arena is looking at you and the game is on the line.
Mahan’s answer was standard: “Focus.”
But Smith’s response was absolute gold: “Cojones.”