On Saturday the UCF men’s basketball team went on the road and took on the team with the best record in the nation, the longest home win streak in the nation, and ranked No. 6 in the nation. After 40 minutes, the Knights came out on top, defeating Houston 69-64 to earn what might be the biggest victory in program history.
“You want to be in meaningful games,” UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said afterwards. “People talk about the stretch right now that we have, but that’s good for us. It’s galvanizing us even more. Guys are understanding what it takes to win in these types of environments and that’s going to continue to help us get better.”
It was not easy. The Cougars, who had lost just one game on the season coming into Saturday, got up on the Knights in the first half. In fact, they led by as many as eight points, and held a five-point advantage at the break.
Back on Feb. 7 in Orlando, the Cougars were able to pull away. On Saturday in Houston, not so much. The Knights scored the first 11 points of the second half, all by big men Tacko Fall and Collin Smith to take a 39-33 early in the period.
UCF extended its lead to as many as eight points midway through the second, before the seasoned Cougars fought back. Houston scored eight straight points to take its first lead of the half, at 60-58 with 1:57 to play, and all the momentum was in favor of the home team.
With a sold-out 7,039 fans erupting, Dawkins called timeout. Out of the break, the team executed the drawn-up play perfectly, finding the younger Dawkins, Aubrey, open for a three. He knocked it down to give UCF the lead again, this time one the team would not relinquish.
The Knights made stop after stop after stop on the defensive end, and connected on its free throws. Dawkins, Smith and Dayon Griffin hit a combined six free throws over the next 53 seconds to make it 65-60 and the Cougars were never able to recover.
When the buzzer sounded and the score read UCF 69, Houston 64, the Knights had earned their second highest ranked win in program history, their second ever true road win over a ranked team and a clear bullet on the resume come Selection Sunday.
“I thought our staff prepared our guys really, really well for this game and we didn’t let the moment get too big for us,” Coach Dawkins said. “They were focused on what we had to do and all night long they executed.”
Star guards Dawkins and BJ Taylor did what they needed to do when it counted. The former hit the aforementioned three and finished with 11 points. The latter went 8-of-8 from the line and had three assists to just one turnover.
But it was the bigs that carried the way on Saturday. They were dominant. Smith and Fall scored. They combined for 34 points. Smith and Fall rebounded. They combined for 17 boards as the Knights outrebounded the Cougars 35-33. They got Houston’s big men int foul trouble, and the led UCF to the victory.
For Smith, it was a season-high 21 points to go with seven rebounds. For Fall, it was 13 points and 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season.
“He was terrific and I told him that after the game,” Dawkins said of Smith. “He really stepped up and gave us a huge lift. He had an advantage and he really just took his time, he was poised and he made some really good plays for us.”
The 22nd win of the regular season matches the program record for wins in a regular season (2003-04 and 2006-07). It was also the 12th win in league play, marking the most ever wins for UCF in the American Athletic Conference.
The Knights have two regular season games remaining, starting with Thursday back at home. UCF hosts No. 22 Cincinnati at 7 p.m. for Senior Knight. Fans can purchase tickets for that game now by calling (407) 823-1000 or online here: https://ucfknights.co/selloutCFE19
Fans can purchase tickets for the final game of the 2018-19 UCF men’s basketball season by calling (407) 823-1000 or online here: https://ucfknights.co/selloutCFE19