There’s a carol that proclaims that this part of the calendar is the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. While it is alleged that the Christmas holiday is the inspiration for that, UCF Knights basketball fans hoped that claiming victory over the Big Ten’s Michigan Wolverines would be what has them humming that tune into the new year. The fans in black and gold would get what they wished for with a dominant 85-71 win at Addition Financial Arena.
The Knights dominated in the paint early, despite Michigan’s size. While the Wolverines won the battle for rebounds (37-32) for the evening, UCF had more blocks (5-2) and more points in the paint (26-22).
However, it was Michigan’s perimeter game offensively and defensively that challenged the Knights to close the first half with a 35-31 lead. UCF was kept alive with a scoring barrage from Darin Green. The Wolverines' top two scorers, Eli Brooks and DeVante’ Jones, had a combined 35 points in the game while launching 8-15 from three.
UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins spoke on Michigan’s play around the arc.
While @UCF_MBB beat @umichbball 85-71, @Coach_Dawkins acknowledged the impact of the Wolverines perimeter play. #GKCO #MICHvsUCF pic.twitter.com/prVOcki5Xb— Kyle Nash (@TheSoTG) December 31, 2021
The Wolverines went on a 9-2 run into the second half that enabled them to secure their biggest lead of the contest, 49-37, with 16 minutes left in the contest.
While no one in Knight Nation could tell you whether it happened by holiday magic or demonic possession, UCF then went on a 13-0 run that would begin a stretch of basketball that will certainly be a highlight of the 2021-22 season and possibly beyond.
Green’s career-high 27 points is only where the success begins. Brandon Mahan had his best game of the season with 26 points while shooting 8-of-10 and 4-of-5 from three-point range.
Or that the team had a season-low six turnovers while going 15-20 from the free-throw line. Or that for the final 12:27 in the game the Wolverines would not have a lead.
While statistics are typically used for scientific analysis, the atmosphere of the crowd in the arena was at a level that also provided context on how great what fans were seeing was. That many who follow this team have not experienced yet — including Green himself, based on his postgame comments.
After the @UCF_MBB 85-71 win over @umichbball, Darin Green spoke about the atmosphere present in @AdditionFiArena. #GKCO #MICHvsUCF pic.twitter.com/fa6QfTBHAv— Kyle Nash (@TheSoTG) December 31, 2021
While critics would cling to Michigan having a disappointing year taking some of the shine of the achievement this represents, the canceled game against FSU only compels it to hold more weight than it would have even considering that fact.
Some pessimists out there may see that there is a downside to this performance. That it would be nearly impossible to reproduce these “video game” numbers. While there is truth in that statement, perhaps the point of view to be had isn’t to precisely reproduce a result.
While a win is a win no matter what, it could be argued that Dawkins would prefer a win with four double-digit contributors with at least one coming off the bench over tonight’s stat line that featured only two. Where the team wasn’t so reliant on Green and Mahan, but rather demonstrated better what this team has identified as its great strength since 2021 Hoops Media day — depth.
While this game may contain the best 16 minutes of basketball a Dawkins-coached team ever plays, the good news is that it’s not far-fetched that this team has several above-average performances that combine into a better team result rather than expect players to regenerate numbers that are typically preceded by a digital voice saying, “it’s in the game”.