Knights nearly shock AAC
Just about when the American Athletic Conference had left the UCF men's basketball team for dead on the court, they set a season scoring high and shocked fans into believing again. Then they did it again, taking out Temple in a double overtime thriller, then nearly shocking No. 1 seed Cincinnati in a three-point loss in the American Athletic Conference championship.
The 61-58 loss to the Bearcats may have ended the Knights season, but it was a memorable finish for a team that had struggled all season. And it all caught fire in the final three games.
The Knights (13-18, 5-15) demolished Houston (16-15, 8-10) on March 7 in a 104-83 blowout that tied a record for the most points in a game this season by the Knights, and also the most points they’ve allowed while holding on to win.
Both couldn’t have come later in the regular season, as the Knights closed out their final night at CFE Arena with a bang, opening the game with a Staphon Blair layup and then never relinquishing the lead again.
The Knights would dominate the Cougars with a scoring gap that was more than double-digit-wide for 36 of the 40 minutes of the game. They outshot the Cougars, who had beaten the Knights 88-84 just two weeks prior. They out-rebounded them 40-33. They out-blocked them 9-1. The only mark on the stat line that didn’t go the Knights’ way was steals, which they Knights ceded to the Cougars by two.
Four Knights would end the night with double-digit points, with Isaiah Sykes leading with 24, nearing triple-double territory with eight rebounds and six assists.
“I’m happy for the seniors,” Coach Donnie Jones told UCFKnights.com. “Those four guys got to go out the right way.”
The Knights’ four seniors — Isaac Lang, Calvin Newell, Tristan Spurlock and Isaiah Sykes — would combine for 43 of the Knights’ points.
It all ended in one final minute on the court in Kissimmee. The Rollins Tars had battled Nova Southeastern into overtime, with a scoring gap that hadn’t been separated by more than two points for the final 140 seconds. Down by two, with six seconds left, they watched Nova’s Chris Page step to the free throw line. He hit both.
When a three-pointer by Rollins’ James Ferrell didn’t fall in the final second, the Tars did, 75-71. Season over. In a game that the Tars were within two shots of the lead for all but two minutes of the game, the final shots would be the story of a season.
All five of Rollins’ starters — Jeff Dirkin, Adam Allen, Chris Uhle, Alex Blessig and Mitch Woods — would bury double-digit scores. Dirkin and Uhle would snag eight rebounds and two steals each.
And just like in so many of the Tars’ losses this season en route to a 14-13 final record, the difference separating them from a win was achingly slim. The four-point gap was the sixth time this season that they lost by that margin or less. A cumulative 24 more points in those games would have given the Tars a 20-7 final win tally on the season.
“The kids played just like they did all year,” Head Coach Tom Klusman told Rollins Sports after the game. “They didn’t quit.”