The UCF Knights, er, Citronauts reached new heights in the Space Game on Saturday night in their 96-52 dismantling of Tulsa.
The ‘Nauts hit a school-record 17 three-pointers en route to their second consecutive win, and are back at .500 in the conference at 6-6.
Here are our Three Pointers from the evening:
Beyond the Arc Barrage
Started launching triples early and never let up— UCF Men’s Hoops (@UCF_MBB) February 12, 2023
Our record setting night from beyond the arc in under two minutes pic.twitter.com/fw36wLlLcZ
Clearly, the game plan was to launch Tulsa out of the building early. UCF took 21 of their 34 first-half shots from three-point range.
It didn’t start out all that great, as UCF missed five of their first seven from beyond the arc early, and fell behind 16-8 in the first six minutes. But then all hell broke loose.
The Knights went on a 40-13 run to close out the first half, and never looked back.
Six players hit at least two threes, led by Ithiel Horton, who hit six. He led UCF with a relatively quiet 20 points. Five Knights hit double figures, with Darius Johnson among them.
“I mean, we got a lot of shooters on our team, so we just got to keep shooting,” Johnson said. “I trust my guys. I know everyone’s put the reps in.”
The coup de grace was P.J. Edwards hitting the final three of the game with 1:51 left to give UCF 17 on the night, breaking the school record of 16 set on Senior Knight in 2004 in a 106-56 win over Campbell and tied a month ago in the 107-104 double-overtime thriller against Memphis.
“They were confident, I thought they made a lot of connecting plays,” head coach Johnny Dawkins said. “We think of all the threes that we took, they were assisted. And that’s what we want to see when guys are helping each other become better on the basketball court.”
Among the other remarkable offensive numbers from last night:
- UCF earned assists on 28 of their 37 buckets. The 28 assists in a game were the 5th-most in program history.
- UCF committed just three turnovers for the whole game.
- The 44-point final margin was the largest of the game.
Block ❌— UCF Men’s Hoops (@UCF_MBB) February 12, 2023
Finger wag pic.twitter.com/J5H8CXBWjv
Lost in all the hoopla on the offensive end was one of UCF’s best defensive performances of the season.
For the twelfth time this season, UCF held its opponent to under 65 points. They are 12-0 when they do that.
Dawkins said during the postgame press conference that Michael Durr’s absence was “big” for the team, acknowledging the team gave up “close to 80” points per game during their losing streak without him.
“It was good to see guys kind of respond in their roles and understand what they have to do so we can be successful defensively,” Dawkins said.
They also held Tulsa under 40% shooting. UCF is now 11-1 when they do that.
Say what you will about the great offensive performance but when UCF’s defense is on, they’re hard to beat.
It’s not a party until Pooh shows up.
Where we going? To the moon pic.twitter.com/DteZNO7Na0— UCF Men’s Hoops (@UCF_MBB) February 12, 2023
Sophomore walk-on Poohpha Warakulnukroh played the final three minutes and dropped the basket of the night, a crossover stepback that sent the UCF bench into the stratosphere.
“He comes in, he works hard every day, doesn’t get the chance to play in as many games, but it never discourages him from how hard he comes in and practices; comes in every day and he pushes our guys in practice,” Dawkins said. “He gives them 110% every time he’s on the floor. So, when he gets the opportunity, guys respect that, they appreciate that because they know the sacrifice he’s making to never get in games, but he comes in with that same energy and enthusiasm every day.”
One of the bench reactions I’ve seen here at UCF pic.twitter.com/TLVuu6ob8T— Eric DeSalvo (@EricDeSalvo) February 12, 2023
Pooh now has 8 points in five games this season, but these two were probably the most exciting.
Having righted the ship for now with two wins after their painful five-game losing streak, UCF now faces a must-have game at Memphis on Thursday in a rematch of their classic 107-104 double-OT classic from earlier this season.
“We’ve won big games on the road before,” Dawkins said. “We’ve competed against some great teams and we’ve been successful. We have to understand that and we have to go there understanding that we have to play well and if we play well, we can give ourselves the chance to win.”
The Knights have not won at Memphis in five tries all-time, and four of those five have come by 20 points or more.
Memphis is 18-6, 8-3 (3rd place) in the league, and has won five of six since the last meeting, with the only loss coming by one point in OT to Tulane, who is one-half game ahead of them in the standings.
UCF has also jumped 15 spots in the NET in the last week (from 70 to 55 as of Sunday), and a victory at Memphis would be a critical Quadrant 1 win — their last chance to get one before the AAC Tournament.
Tip-off at FedEx Forum in Memphis is set for 8 p.m. ET Thursday night on ESPN+.