UCF kept it close for a while and even had chances to take the lead. But in the end, the Knights lost a key game before their matchup with #1 Houston next week.
Here are some takeaways from the game:
Always One Step Ahead
The Knights led the game for just 1:38, and that lead was only at the start of the first half. For almost the entire game, 34:20 to be exact, the Bulls were ahead on the scoreboard.
Now despite the final score, the whole game wasn't a blowout. The Bulls only managed to break away with about four minutes left in the game. The Knights kept it close for a long time. They were only down by five at halftime. There was even a point in the second half when they were only losing by one point. The team had chances to take the lead and give them something to build off of.
But either because of missed shots, missed free throws, turnovers, or a clutch basket by the Bulls, the Knights could never seize control of the game.
Coach Johnny Dawkins summed it up the best after the game when he said, “We just couldn't get over the hump.”
The Bulls’ Strong Offensive Play
The main reason why the Knights could never regain the lead was that the Bulls never slowed down on offense, especially in the second half.
USF made 27 of their 61 shots and made 91% of their free throws (20/22), compared to UCF’s 72%. Three Bulls — Shelton Miguel, Tyler Harris, and Sam Hines Jr., — hit double digit points. Harris was the star of the day, scoring 33 points and hitting 6/14 from three-point range.
But the biggest key to the Bulls’ success on offense was their three-point shooting and second-chance points.
The Bulls made 11 of 31 threes, but it wasn’t just the amount of threes that was key — it was when they hit them. The team always seemed to hit a three right after a potentially big basket for the Knights. Every time the Knights scored to give themselves momentum, another Bulls three-pointer squashed it.
As for second-chance points, the Bulls had 22 of them on 15 offensive rebounds. Much like the Bulls’ three-point shooting, these second-chance points killed every potential momentum swing. Many of them came on chances where if the Knights got possession back they could have either tied up the game or made the score extremely close.
#UCF has given up 70+ pts in last 3 games. Had only given up 70+ in just 3 of first 16 games with 2 of them having gone to OT.— Eric Lopez (@EricLopezELO) January 21, 2023
The Knights clearly have a lot to work on after this game. They only made 18 out of their 25 free throws. They had 12 turnovers. They were 36.4% from the three-point line. This is the third game in a row where the team gave up over 70 points, after only doing that three times in the first 16 games.
However, there were still some things to look back positively on from the game, mainly the performances of Ithiel Horton, Brandon Suggs, C.J. Kelly and Taylor Hendricks.
Horton had 15 points and hit three of his nine three-point attempts. Suggs dropped 13 points. Kelly was the Knights’ leading scorer with 18 points and also made 4 out of his 7 three-point attempts. Hendricks scored 12 points but was more effective on defense. He recorded 9 rebounds, a steal, and a block. One of those blocks was a highlight reel quality play:
Still, the biggest issue for the Knights right now is injuries. With C.J. Walker out for the year and Michael Durr and Darius Johnson out for this game, UCF’s rotation was essentially down to seven players. Their only true point guard, Jayhlon Young, did not play for the first ten minutes of the second half, and was largely a non-factor when he did play, only scoring three points at the line (0/1 from the field, 2 assists, 3 steals, 2 turnovers).
After losing to Tulane last Saturday, this game could have put them in second place in the conference standings. Now they are in sixth place, not to mention this loss puts a major dent in the team’s NCAA Tournament hopes. This is UCF’s first loss to a quadrant 3 team and their first double-digit loss.
Normally you would say shake it off and move on, but that will be difficult to do because the Knights’ next opponent is the #1 ranked Houston Cougars. Sure, the last time they played them they kept it close, only losing by six on the road. Now they are coming back home, where hopefully Addition Financial Arena will be packed to help give them a big home-court advantage. But this is a tough loss for the Knights to take and you have to wonder whether they will be healthy enough to keep this as close.
All we can hope for now is that they come out and play the Cougars similar to how they did against Memphis and wait till the Bulls come to Orlando for revenge.