This was a tale of two halves, and perhaps of the season: A rollercoaster night where the UCF Knights found themselves down 16 at the half and 20 in the 2nd half before mounting a comeback to grab a 92-85 win over East Carolina in overtime to improve to 11-5 on the season and 3-3 in American.
Here are my three points from the game.
1. Darius Johnson is the future of UCF Basketball
Darius Johnson’s continued growth has been one of the highlights of the season that has me excited for the future.
Johnson scored 12 of his career-high 16 points in the 2nd half, hitting four threes in the game, and added 4 rebounds which included a couple of big ones down the stretch.
“I thought Darius Johnson when we were down he was terrific,” UCF Head Coach Johnny Dawkins told Marc Daniels on the radio broadcast postgame. “He really steadied us and that allowed our upperclassmen to get settled into the game.”
One of the upperclassmen who settled into the game was Darius Perry, who seems to be developing good chemistry with Johnson.
Tonight was the @dariusperry and @_dariusj2 Show:— Jeff Sharon (@Jeff_Sharon) January 19, 2022
1st Half (combined):
9 pts, 3/9 (3/6 3FG), 0 reb, 4 ast, 4 to, 1 stl
2nd Half/OT (combined):
21 pts, 7/10 (5/6 3FG), 7/11 FT, 8 reb, 6 ast, 2 to, 3 stl#UCF
Perry ended up with 19 points and 8 assists in the game, including the game-tying 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 24 seconds left in regulation to tie it at 72.
Johnson would play strong defense in the final Pirates possession, forcing their leading scorer Tristan Newton into a tough shot, which he missed, to force the game into overtime.
Johnson has earned a big role on the team and will not only help them win this season, but continue the growth of his game.
2. UCF needs more Second Half Brandon Mahan in the whole game
Brandon Mahan is a streaky player, as Knight fans know by now. Tuesday night was nothing new. Mahan did not score in the 1st half on 0/4 from the field. In the 2nd half though, Mahan found it, scoring all 19 of his points on 7/10 from the field, including 10 in overtime to put the Knights over the top.
Mahan has had some memorable moments as a Knight. It seems they all come in the 2nd half. His 19 points were the 2nd-most he scored this season behind only his 26-point performance in the win over Michigan, in which he scored 22 points ... in the 2nd half.
Mahan’s best game as a Knight came in December of 2020 when he scored 24 of his 32 points in the — you guessed it — 2nd half at No. 15 Florida State.
I can't explain the radical difference between the first and second halves, and likely neither can the coaching staff or even Mahan himself. But if we can just see more of Second Half Mahan earlier in the games moving forward in his final season, perhaps UCF can make a run to a post-season tournament.
3. C.J. Walker’s emotional moment was a positive
Coming back from the Under 12 timeout with the Knights down 63-50, the ESPN+ telecast showed C.J. Walker getting pretty emotional on the bench. We media and fans tend to make a big deal of these things as we turn into psychologists and try to examine the moment, not realizing that athletes are humans too and emotional moments happen on the benches of teams.
“Emotion isn’t a bad thing, as long as you use it the right way,” Dawkins said in his postgame radio interview.
UCF outscored ECU 42-22 the rest of the way, and Walker was part of the comeback.
Sometimes a team needs someone to light a fire under them as the team had just played the three worst halves of the season going back to Saturday in Tampa. Perhaps this is what can help turn around the Knights’ season and jumpstart a run in the final two months.
The question I am left with at the end of this is: Was the ECU 2nd half the turning point of the season that jumpstarts the Knights’ run to making a postseason tournament? Or will the ECU game turn out to be a perfect description of who Knights’ 2021-2022 team is: consistently inconsistent?
We’ll find out Saturday against Tulane.