The UCF Knights Men’s Basketball team struggled but ultimately pulled out a 69-56 victory over Florida A&M Thursday night.
Despite his second-lowest shooting percentage of the season, guard Jaylin Sellers led the way with 15 points thanks to going 5-16 from the floor and 5-5 from the free-throw line.
While he and three other Knights (8-3) got double-digit points on the evening, it does not change the fact that they shot a sub-.400 shooting percentage for the third time this season. Overall, UCF went 21-53, tying the Ole Miss game for the least field goals made in a game, and was one less than the Rattlers (2-8), who went 22-50. Most of these misses came in the first half, a period time in which neither team reached double-digit points until 12:45 into the game.
“We were getting open looks, we just got to knock it down with confidence like Coach always preaches every day and that’ll come with more and more reps and practice,” guard Shemarri Allen, who went 4-8 from the floor, said.
4️⃣ double-digit scorers tonight pic.twitter.com/3zuLLMRX3d— UCF Men’s Hoops (@UCF_MBB) December 22, 2023
While the UCF offense was able to recover in the second half, helping four Knights players reach double-digit points, so did Florida A&M’s. The Knights did not get their first double-digit lead of the contest until 10:28 remained in the game.
“They were attacking all night and our guys had to respond,” head coach Johnny Dawkins said. “I thought they did a good job, especially the second half, of really focusing on what we wanted to do on both sides of the basketball and we were able to build a lead and that’s what I want to see our guys do is how do you build and how do you maintain a lead? Once we got a lead we were able to kind of maintain it and we finished the game out.”
Saved by the Line
That separation came courtesy of the free-throw, which UCF went 19-27 with on the evening, 15-19 in the second half alone. In comparison, the Rattlers went 7-11 from the line the whole game.
“We want to get to the line no matter what because that’s a sign of aggressiveness for us offensively,” Dawkins said. “I thought our guys did a good job of getting into the bonus and then capitalizing when we got in there, guys were knocking down free throws fairly consistently and that’s what we have to do. We have to make sure we balance our offense out between free throws, between threes, and between finishes around the basket.”
Leading the way on the line was forward Ibrahima Diallo, who put up new season highs in free throws attempted and made, going 6-10. He also pulled down 12 rebounds for his second-best game of the season at the boards.
“Coach actually challenged him with the big guy they had on their end, he was a really good big,” Allen said. “I feel like Ib [Diallo] and Omar [Payne] did a really great job defensively and offensively rebounding, just stopping him, holding him. So, I feel like they did a great job.”
C.J. Walker Returns
Joining Diallo in the front court was a newly healthy C.J. Walker. Thursday marked his return from a preseason knee injury and his first time entering a game at all since Nov. 27, 2022, against Miami (FL).
“I’m just excited to play with the guys that we got,” Walker said. “I was real eager to play with them against other people because I’ve been playing against them every day in practice and they’ve been the only guys I’ve been playing with. So, just for me to play with them against an opponent is really a plus for me.”
However, he was not immune to the team’s shooting struggles, going 0/6 from the floor. His only point of the night came on a free throw.
“That’s just the start,” Walker said. “I kinda knew I was going to hit the free-throw line. I told myself before the game, ‘I’m going to get a couple of free throws before I do anything.’”
The Knights will have some time off to spend Christmas with their families, Dawkins said. They will be back in Addition Financial Arena on Friday, Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. to host Bethune-Cookman to close non-conference play.
The Wildcats (5-6), ranked #305 in the NET rankings, are coming off back-to-back losses to Purdue Fort Wayne and Chicago State.
Despite the win, UCF ended up falling in the NET rankings seven spots to #83.