What we Knight fans watched last night is a game, a moment we will never forget.
It was a moment where the unthinkable happened. It was a game where history happened. Let this sink in: on Wednesday, January 10th, 2023 the UCF Knights men’s basketball team defeated the #3 Kansas Jayhawks, 65-60.
Without a doubt, this is one of the biggest wins in school history regardless of team. But how did this happen? How did a team that everyone predicted would finish last in the conference upset one of the greatest programs in college basketball history?
Let’s look at the key points.
A Tale of Two Halves
If you only watched the first half of the game, you would be surprised the Knights came away with the win.
The Knights did get off to a fast start, going up 7-0, but they would go on to struggle while Kansas flourished. At the end of the half, Kansas had shot a blistering 68% while the Knights only made 37.9% of their shots. UCF were down by 16 at one point. However they managed to inch back into the game and despite giving up a buzzer-beater to end the half, that would be huge because the Knights who came out for the second half were much different from the first.
In the second half, the Knights shot 47.8%. They were much better with their shot selection. But what was more important was their zone defense. And this decision would allow them to put a lot of pressure on the Jayhawks.
KU at some points appeared to be panicking when they had the ball. The Knights forced nine turnovers, and took a Jayhawks team that shot 68% in the first half down to 31.8% in the second half.
These improvements allowed the Knights to come back, take the lead, and eventually come away with the win.
Ibrahima Diallo said after the game he felt the team’s defensive improvements came from their desire to go after it.
“We committed,” Diallo said. “Everybody has to lock in.”
Winning the Little Battles
After the game, the Jayhawks head coach Bill Self, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, repeated a single phrase: “They were the better team.”
The Knights won so many of the little battles on the stat sheet. They went 14-for-18 on free throws while the Jayhawks went six-for-11. The Knights were seven-for-20 from three-point range. The Jayhawks were six-for-18. The Knights scored 15 second-chance points. The Jayhawks scored 12. Kansas had 18 turnovers while the Knights only committed 13.
The only battle the Knights didn’t win was rebounding, and even then it was close at 32 to 38. The Knights had more offensive rebounds, nine, than the Jayhawks, eight.
After the game, Darius Johnson attributed the teams’ success on the stat sheet, especially on the defensive side, to their toughness.
“I feel like we played with a lot of grits,” Johnson said. “We played with a lot of toughness and our defense was really strong. I feel like we moved the ball very well on offense.”
Big Individual Performances
This game was won because of an excellent team performance, but several Knights were clear key contributors.
Diallo had a tough matchup against the Jayhawks’ Hunter Dickinson. but he thrived in the paint, scoring 13 points and grabbing three rebounds.
Johnson dropped 17 points and hit some of the biggest shots in the game, such as a three-pointer to regain the lead and prevent a Jayhawks rally and two free throws to make it a two-possession game with seconds left. And once again, one game after he was held to his lowest amount, Jaylin Sellers once again showed out. Sellers led the game with 18 points and hit four of the Knights’ seven three-pointers.
After the game, Sellers talked about how he knew he was capable of performances like the one he put on.
“I always look at it and be like I’m one of those guys too,” Sellers said. “I got confidence in myself.”
A Great Crowd
Besides the win, the thing that will make this game memorable is the crowd. 9,469 fans packed Addition Financial Arena. It was the third-biggest crowd in arena history and only its second-ever sellout.
It was LOUD. And that noise affected the game. It gave the Knights momentum and energy to build off. The energy culminated in the most memorable part of the night, the storming of the court.
Head coach Johnny Dawkins empathized with how important the fan support was to the win after the game.
“You want to be in moments like this,” Dawkins said, “and you want our students to be in moments like this.”
Enjoy this moment, but don’t hold onto it for too long.
On Saturday the Knights will face another tough opponent at home, #17 BYU. The game will be at 4 p.m.