Ithiel Horton said he had not had a dunk like that since his freshman year at Pitt.
His UCF Knights were leading Stetson with 3:27 left in the game, but the Hatters had just stopped a 7-0 UCF run. The Knights (9-3) had a hard time shaking off the Hatters all night.
Immediately after Stetson’s Sam Peek scored a bucket to make it 62-56, Horton received the inbound from Brandon Suggs and noticed Peek had his head turned, giving him a fast break opportunity.
“On the last few breaks, I didn’t make the layup, I didn’t make the floater, so I said, ‘I’m gonna just dunk it,’” Horton said.
After that dunk, the Knights closed the game on an 8-2 run, finishing off Stetson, 73-58.
“I thought we always had someone step up and make a play and regain the momentum and that’s what you want to see from your team, you want to see how they respond through adversity,” Head Coach Johnny Dawkins said.
Finding a Way
Horton finished with 14 points on 5/9 from the field, and pulled down five rebounds. He was only out-scored by Darius Johnson and Taylor Hendricks, who both scored 16 points.
Johnson pulled off a double-double with 10 of the Knights’ 20 total assists.
“I like to get my guys going early on in the game, get them in position wherever they can score to the best, try to make them look good,” Johnson said.
Hendricks sunk 7/20 from the floor, which was his second-lowest shooting performance of the season.
“He didn’t force too many shots out there, so he just took what the defense gave him,” Dawkins said. “It just wasn’t his night shooting the ball as well as he had been all season.”
But despite a rough shooting night, Hendricks led the team in rebounds with 10, and added a season-high five assists. It was his third double-double of the season.
Hendricks still found a way to be successful, which Dawkins said was “the mark of a good player.”
The game was a sort of homecoming for Dawkins’ UCF predecessor, Donnie Jones. It was his first time back in Addition Financial Arena since he was an assistant with Wichita State back in 2018.
Jones said the emotions were different for him this time, considering all the players he once coached in Orlando are now graduated. But he felt his team had a good opportunity to play a UCF squad that he thinks has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament.
The Hatters kept UCF within single digits for the majority of the night thanks to their three-point shooting. In the first half, the Hatters took 18 of their 30 shots from beyond the arc, hitting seven.
“The big adjustment was at halftime,” Dawkins said. “We talked about it and discussed what we had to do better defensively in the second half to defend the three and I thought we actually executed that fairly well.”
The Knights limited the Hatters to 2/10 from three-point land in the second half and kept them scoreless in the final three minutes.
“It comes down to a possession game and they made the plays down the stretch to win it,” Jones said.
On to Conference Play
The win wraps up the Knights’ non-conference schedule, a period that Horton said provided a great benchmark for the team going into conference play.
Johnson said he learn from the three close losses of the past 12 games (by a combined 7 points), he also looks forward to conference play.
“We got to keep fighting through every play,” Johnson said. “Every play matters. So, at the end of the day, that part of the season is over.”
“Now it’s back to 0-0.”
The Knights have a week off before they open conference play at home on December 28th against Wichita State.