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UCF Men’s Basketball Gets Hunted Down by #7 Houston Cougars, 63-49

After losing back-to-back games where they were underdogs, the Knights look to rally for position for at-large bid.

Mbacke Diong throws down a dunk against #7 Houston.
Photo: Noah Goldberg

After dropping a road game in a valiant effort against the Wichita State Shockers Wednesday night, the UCF Knights (12-7) faced the predicted winner of the American Athletic Conference, the #7 Houston Cougars (18-2). Hoping to give Houston a problem, the Knights were repelled by the Cougs, 63-49.

There’s a Reason Houston is Ranked

The Knights surged to an 11-2 lead to open the game on the strength of a trio of shots from three-point range from guard Darin Green and a bucket from guard Darius Perry who both led the Knights in scoring with 14 and 11 points respectively. The defense for UCF was also strong throughout the game. It even caused Houston to miss five of their first six shots from three-point land.

From that moment on, guard Kyler Edwards and forward Josh Carlton led Houston past the slow start. Edwards posted 17 points, seven rebounds, and four assists while Carlton was good for a double-double with 13 points and 15 rebounds. With a 13-point run to close the first half, it looked like the Cougars would pull away up 34-23 at the half.

The 2nd Half Comeback with Mbacke

While the Knights never had a lead again after 7:30 in the first half, there was a surge in the mid 2nd half where they brought the game within 3 points. This came on the strength of a 16-2 run that featured scoring from Green and Perry as well as center Cheikh Mbacke Diong. Diong had 3 consecutive scoring possessions for six of his eight total points during that streak. One of them featured a dunk where Carlton hit him in the face.

When asked what UCF could take away from this loss as a lesson, the team captain said, “The biggest thing we can take away from this loss is that we can play with anyboy.” If the rest of the squad can keep the confidence, perhaps the Knights can muster a strong finish to the season.

Need More From Mahan

With Perry and Green delivering 25 combined points on the night as the team’s stars this season, Knight fans may find themselves wondering where guard Brandon Mahan was this evening.

To Mahan’s credit, he did lead the squad with four offensive rebounds to finish with seven total for the evening. But Mahan’s main function on offense is for him to put the biscuit in the basket. Unfortunately, he only finished with 1-of-12 from the floor.

In his defense, Isaiah Adams started at forward tonight and he went 0-3 while point guard Darius Johnson went 0-2 off the bench. As a team, UCF even struggled offensively as they failed to score a field goal in the final 5 minutes of the contest.

With all that also hampering the Knights, Mahan had a flat night once again. As a 45% shooter last year, he is currently 35% this season — and that’s including performances like putting up 20 on Wednesday against Wichita State and shooting the lights out earlier in the season against Michigan.

Mahan, Perry, and Green have rarely if ever, had a solid game as a trio. If head coach Johnny Dawkins could facilitate a way to make that happen, fans should prepare for a bounceback. Hopefully, it can happen in time for the Knights to crack into the NCAA tournament as an unlikely at-large qualifier.

UCF will take the home court once again on Thursday night at 7 pm EST looking for payback against their in-state rival USF Bulls. After that, they head on the road for a chance to sweep Memphis for the season. A win there could give the Knights momentum as they return home for a rematch against the Shockers at 9 pm EST.