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UCF Loses Heartbreaker To Ole Miss

The Knights fall just short of handing the undefeated Rebels their first loss.

Photo by Derek Warden

Exciting and heartbreaking. Those are the two words fans can use to describe the game between the UCF Knights (6-3) and Ole Miss Rebels (9-0) men’s basketball teams.

The Knights came close to knocking off the undefeated Rebels. They were one second away from sending the game into overtime. But unfortunately, the buzzer went off before the ball came out of Marchelus Avery’s hand and the Knights lost 70-68.

This game has the potential to have a huge impact on the Knights’ season and only time will tell what that impact will be. But right now the only thing that is being questioned is “What kept the Knights from earning the win?”

Let’s answer that by going over the key takeaways of the game.

Poor Shooting

It can be argued that this game was the Knights’ worst offensive performance this season. It was undoubtedly their worst shooting performance.

The Knights’ total shooting percentage (36.8%) only tells a small amount of the story. The team hit several season-shooting lows in this game. They shot four-for-22 (18.2%) from three-point range, their lowest percentage of the season. They missed 12 free throws, making 22 out of 34 (64.7%), which ties the season record for most misses. These all combined to lead to the Knights scoring a season-low 68 points.

This wasn’t a game where the knights needed to have perfect shooting. Ole Miss didn’t shoot that well either. They only made 44.4% of their shots. The Knights’ defense made it to where Ole Miss only made six baskets in the second half. If the Knights had just hit a few more shots or were above average at the free throw line, they would have won this game.

After the game, Knights head coach Johnny Dawkins credited the Ole Miss defense for forcing so many misses.

“They played very hard,” Dawkins said. “Coach (Chris) Beard’s teams, they’re going to play with discipline. And they’re going to play hard. and you saw that tonight. they may have rushed us on a couple of shots because of their activity.”

Relying on One Player

If it wasn’t for Darius Johnson’s performance, the Knights’ shooting performance would have been even worse. Johnson was the best offensive player of the game, scoring 25 points while shooting nine-for-16. Half of the Knights’ four three-pointers were made by him.

While you can’t say that everyone else on the team played poorly, players like Jaylin Sellers scored double-digit points, it’s clear that the Knights over-relied on Johnson in this game. If you take away Johnson’s shooting, the Knights shot 12-for-41 in the game and only make two three-pointers on 20 attempts. Johnson also played close to 36 minutes in the game, which may have been because the team’s bench players struggled to contribute. The team only had 11 bench points, which is tied for the lowest amount this season.

After the game, Johnson said he simply believed that the team’s performance was a result of an off-night, while also saying he deserves some blame in the loss as well.

“I mean obviously it’s disappointing,” Johnson said. “We had some plays we wish we could have back but it starts with me. Having four turnovers is unacceptable. that’s 12 points right there our team could have had.”

Positive Takeaways

While this loss is a tough one to swallow for the Knights and their fans, there are some positive takeaways from this game. The main thing is the team’s defensive performance.

The reason the Knights had a chance in this game when they were shooting so poorly is because their defense clamped down on Ole Miss. The Knights won the rebound battle 39 to 29, which led to them scoring 12 second-chance points while giving up only 7. They also forced a lot of Ole Miss missed shots. In the second half, they began to wear down their opponent. Ole Miss only made six shots, including a single three-pointer. The only reason they were able to score more points is because they managed to get to the free throw line 28 times. The Knights’ Sheamarri Allen said after the game that the beloved team’s second-half performance would be something that the team would try to build off of going forward.

“The way we came out and played in the second half was a real positive,” Allen said.

After the game, Ole Miss head coach Chris Beard admitted that he felt like his team was getting physically beaten in the second half.

“We thought we were getting out-toughed a bit,” Beard said.

The most important thing that can be taken away from this game is that the Knights may have shown a blueprint on how they can earn wins once conference play starts. Beard, a man who coached Texas Tech for five seasons and Texas for two seasons, said that this game “felt like a Big 12 game.” Ole Miss is a talented team and the Knights will have to play many more teams like them when they begin conference play. Come January, they will be in similar situations to the line they were in this game. The fact is, the Knights showed that if they play crazy on defense, they can hang with tough opponents who arguably have better players. So though they didn’t beat Ole Miss, they may have just shown that they can challenge several of their future conference foes.

What’s Next?

The Knights will be back at Addition Financial Arena on December 18th, where they will take on Maine. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.