For the second game in a row, UCF Men’s Basketball found itself in a tight game and just like the last one, they were unable to get the win. This time they fell to the Missouri Tigers 62-59.
A game that was originally supposed to feature a considerable amount of offensive firepower, including Missouri’s star freshman Michael Porter Jr., became more of a defensive struggle after Missouri lost Porter to a season ending injury and UCF lost B.J. Taylor in their respective opening games.
“I thought it was just a real tough, physical ball game,” coach Johnny Dawkins said. “That’s their style of play, and I thought our guys responded well. I thought our guys were able to match the physicality and was able to compete very well.”
The Knights once again tried a different starting lineup, and while the offense was better, especially in limiting turnovers, the slow starts persisted.
“I thought we were better, we were more patient offensively, but it still needs work, we still need to make more connecting plays, because I trust every one of our guys with an open shot,” Dawkins said.
After playing to a 9-9 tie after five minutes, the Knights held the Tigers scoreless over the next seven, but had a hard time separating, as they only got the lead up to eight.
The Tigers would go on a run of their own, outscoring the Knights by 13 over the last eight minutes of the half to go into halftime with a 29-24 lead.
“It’s just whichever team can sustain the other team’s run better is the team most likely that’s gonna get that separation,” senior forward A.J. Davis said. “During our run, they held their ground and you know, when they went their run, we didn’t get enough stops during that time.”
The second half was much improved offensively for the Knights. After shooting just 36 percent in the first half, the Knights came out and shot 54 percent in the second. They were able to get the Tiger lead down to two through the first seven minutes, but Missouri would go on another mini run.
After a Jeremiah Tilmon dunk pushed the lead to 11, the Knights would respond with another run of their own. With 3:13 left in the game, Ceasar DeJesus hit a three with the shot clock expiring and assisted a A.J. Davis and-1 on the next possession to cut the lead to two.
Missouri’s Terrence Phillips hit a tough bank shot three as the shot clock was winding down to push the lead back to 5 with 51 seconds left.
Terrell Allen would answer with a three of his own to bring it back to a two-point game with 47 seconds left, but that is as close as it would get, as the Tigers would ice the game at the free throw line.
UCF was led by Davis – who had 14 points and nine rebounds – and junior center Tacko Fall – who had 12 points and six rebounds.
They had a tough time containing Missouri’s Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett, who both had 19 points a piece while shooting over 50 percent.
While this was the Knight’s third loss in a row after starting with four straight victories, the team is not discouraged going forward.
“We got to keep grinding, we got to keep fighting. I mean, three straight losses against, you know, three really good basketball teams, and that we know we have a chance too,” Dawkins said. “We do a few different things right; two of the three games could have gone the other way for us.”
UCF is back in action Sunday when the team travels to take on No. 24 Alabama.