Conference play has not been kind to UCF so far this season. After the Knights made it through the non-conference slate with a respectable 9-3 record, the team ran into a pretty hefty roadblock having to face two of the AAC’s top teams in its first three games. They went on to start 0-3 for the first time since joining the conference.
But UCF had a real chance to finally notch its first conference win on Saturday, against a Cincinnati team that had been formidable last season but surprisingly inconsistent this year.
But it was the Knights who ended up playing inconsistently, following up an impressive first half with a second half collapse that cost the team a chance at a win. UCF ended up losing 68-54 to fall to 0-4 in conference play.
“I thought it was a tale of two halves,” coach Johnny Dawkins said. “We went through a little bit of a drought, about eight minutes, and I think in about 13 minutes we only got four field goals. And we can’t have that in games like this.”
UCF had a small lead at halftime and had looked fairly evenly matched throughout the first half. But once the second half started, Cincinnati began to outplay the Knights as time wore on.
“Disappointed. We gotta have more of a sense of urgency now,” forward Collin Smith said. “Since we’re starting off our conference play so poorly, we gotta get it together quickly if we want to get to where we want to get to this season.”
Smith led the Knights in points, rebounds and assists, finishing the night with 19 points and 9 rebounds.
UCF got off to a strong start on both sides of the ball, helping to create a small early lead that the team was able to hang on to for the rest of the first half. The Knights got there thanks to an early 9-0 run, making six of their first 10 shots. The Bearcats, meanwhile, struggled significantly from the field and missed 10 of their first 12 attempts.
Cincinnati managed to keep it close throughout the half however, often matching UCF’s shots to keep the team from building up any significant runs. But behind the shooting efforts of Ceaser DeJesus and Smith, the Knights maintained control of the game and went into halftime with a 29-26 lead that felt larger than its three-point margin.
But in the second half, UCF couldn’t keep up with Cincinnati despite staying in front of them with ease in the first half. The Knights shot just 35 percent from the field after halftime, as the Bearcats made an astounding 58 percent of their looks to steadily build a lead and pull away. For as tight as a game that had been played in the first 20 minutes, UCF simply looked listless and outmatched.
The Knights will once again look for their first conference win of the year when they head on the road to face Tulane on Tuesday.