The UCF Men’s Basketball team used a late run to pull away from ECU, after letting a llarge ead slip away, in a 66-52 win in the first round of the AAC Tournament Thursday night.
Freshman guard Ceasar DeJesus made a buzzer-beater three to send the Knights into halftime with a 36-25 lead. The Knights (19-12) then came out in the second half and quickly extended the lead to 15. With the game looking like it was trending toward a dominant UCF win, ECU responded with a 20-6 run to make it a one-point game with 9:36 left.
“I was really proud of the way they responded to their run and was able to kind of build, you know, build on our lead, establish another run and was able to win a good basketball game,” coach Johnny Dawkins said.
The Knights responded with some of the best defense they had played all season and finished the game on a 20-7 run of their own.
After their lead was cut to one, the Knights forced the Pirates to turn the ball over on eight of their next 12 possessions. ECU also did not make a single field goal over that span.
Guard Terrell Allen led the defense, as the redshirt sophomore had four of his career-high five steals during the run.
“I have a lot of confidence in Terrell and he’s done an amazing job for us this season,” Dawkins said. “His role has changed, but he understands that. He’s done a really good job of giving us a really nice spark off the bench in a number of games and like I said, he did it again this evening.”
While the defense was dominant, the offense was not so much.
After an efficient offensive first half, in which the Knights shot 50 percent, including 7-11 from three, they struggled mightily in the second half, allowing ECU to make a comeback.
After the Knights increased their lead to 14 with 16:22 left in the second half, they went almost 10 minutes without making a field goal and wouldn’t have scored at all if it weren’t for eight free throws.
Back-to-back steals by Allen, followed by redshirt senior A.J. Davis lay-ups pushed the Knight lead back to double digits at 56-45 with 6:17 left in the game and broke the offensive cold streak.
Redshirt junior B.J. Taylor then scored six straight of his game-high 17 points to put the game completely out of reach with 3:44 left.
The Knights, who came into this game last in the AAC in free throw percentage, shot a disappointing 20-36 from the free throw, with many misses coming during ECU’s 20-6 run.
UCF moves on to play No. 21 Houston in the quarterfinals tonight. The Knights lost their only game against the Cougars this season, 69-65 at the beginning of February. They will now need to avenge that earlier loss if they want to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
“Every game is one and done,” Davis said. “We’re just taking it one game at a time and just focusing on the next game plan.”