Going into Saturday’s season opener, it was unclear exactly what fans could expect from UCF. The Knights were coming off their best season in school history and a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but only three players who saw the floor last year were returning.
It wasn’t always pretty, but UCF showed that its winning ways are not done with a 73-69 victory over Prairie View A&M.
“We beat a very good basketball team with a really good tradition,” Coach Johnny Dawkins said. “I think it’s a very good win for us”
Alabama Transfer Dazon Ingram led the way for the Knights, putting 16 points on 4-of-9 shootings to go along with seven rebounds and two assists.
Despite boasting of a potentially high-scoring offense throughout the offseason, UCF got off to a shaky start on that side of the ball, missing eight of its first 12 shots and turning the ball over at a high rate.
But once the team settled down, the potential of the offense was clear. After a close game in the opening minutes, the Knights exploded for a 16-3 run thanks to an up-tempo offense relying on quick shots. Despite the many new players, it was two familiar faces who lead the team in the first half.
Redshirt junior Collin Smith led all scorers at halftime with nine points on 80 percent shooting to go along with two rebounds. Redshirt junior Ceasar DeJesus chipped in eight points of his own on 75 percent shooting to help UCF to an 11-point lead at halftime.
But at the start of the half, UCF’s offense evaporated. The Knights just couldn’t keep the scoring going, and the Panthers snuck back into the game thanks to a 7-0 run.
“We’re very disappointed about the first four minutes of the second half,” Dawkins said. “But you give them credit. They came out on fire in the second half.”
Prairie View finally took the lead on a layup with 11 minutes to go, and continued to build on that lead thanks to a barrage of three-point shots as UCF’s offensive struggles continued. But Ingram, who had been fairly quiet in the first half, began to take over for his new team with several impressive baskets.
He retook the lead for the Knights with a pair of free throws with seven minutes to go, and a pair of threes from Frank Bertz finally gave UCF some breathing room.
The Knights were able to hold on for a 73-69 win.
UCF will be back at home on Tuesday night to take on Miami.