For the first time in the Johnny Dawkins era, the UCF Knights Men’s Basketball team has lost a season opener after a wild back-and-forth affair against UNC-Asheville, 98-95, in double overtime.
The Knights were shorthanded as they did not have Darius Johnson, C.J. Walker, and Tyem Freeman. Drew Pember led the Bulldogs with 40 points and 9 rebounds in the game as the Knights' defense struggled to contain him.
Here are my three points from the game:
I know you’re upset, shocked, and probably much more. Take a deep breath.
UCF was without three players. Two of them, Johnson and Walker, are two of the team’s top three players. UCF played shorthanded in a game that went to double overtime.
Upsets happen in college basketball. On opening night alone we had 13 major upsets, which included UCF’s next opponent, Florida State, losing to Stetson in Tallahassee.
I want to see this team close to full strength before judging because I really like the pieces from what I saw over the last few years. The question is, when?
Head Coach Johnny Dawkins said after the game that Johnson will be “out for a little while” due to a lower leg injury. With Johnson out, JUCO transfer Jayhlon Young started and played 44 minutes, putting up eight points, six rebounds, and three assists.
C.J. Kelly brought a spark off the bench, scoring 20 points.
2. Taylor Hendricks is as advertised
Hendricks was an ESPN 4-Star and ranked as the 54th-best player in the nation. He showed why on Monday night, with 23 points, five rebounds, three blocks, and two steals. I look forward to seeing Hendricks and Walker play together when the latter returns.
Hendricks has a chance to be the best two-way frontcourt player at UCF since Keith Clanton.
3. The defense has to be better
The lack of stops down the stretch cost the Knights as they could not close the game late.
The Bulldogs shot 51% from the field with 11 threes, and out-rebounded the Knights 42-39.
“Giving up 98 points, even though it was a double overtime game, we have to be better than that,” said Dawkins after the game.
Pember showed why he is the preseason Big South Player of the Year as he put on a show. Give him credit, he will be playing professional basketball somewhere in the future.
The Knights have nine new faces on the roster and were without three returners on opening night. It showed against a veteran UNC-Asheville team that has 11 players who are juniors or seniors. Experience won out.
Next up: UCF faces Florida State — and old friend Darin Green, Jr. — on Friday night at 7 p.m. in Addition Financial Arena.