What was billed as the most unique home opener in program history started in a familiar way. The UCF Knights got off to a slow start offensively while their defense kept them in the game. The offense eventually came alive and the Knights kicked off their 2018-2019 season with an 84-70 win against Rider.
This game featured a few new faces for the Knights in Aubrey Dawkins, Collin Smith and Frank Bertz. Between them and having a healthy B.J. Taylor and Tacko Fall, UCF coach Johnny Dawkins had a full and healthy roster to start the season for the first time.
The new guys definitely had an impact on the first half, especially Dawkins who helped keep the offense afloat over the first part of the games.
“I thought Aub played great for his first game at UCF,” Taylor said. “When you’ve sat out for two years straight, I mean, that’s basically coming back almost as a freshman.”
But with the Knights down four with five minutes left in the half and having trailed for most of the first half, it was a familiar face that helped the Knights take control.
After going scoreless over the first almost 15 minutes, AAC conference preseason player of the year B.J. Taylor scored 9 points in the final five, helping the Knights take their first lead with 1:53 left in the half. That was part of a 15-1 run by the Knights to go into the half up 43-34.
“They got off to a hot start, and I thought our guys were kind of, battling uphill most of the first half,” Dawkins said. “But I thought B.J got on a run, hitting some shots, but also Chance and Dayon did a great job for us when we subbed them in.”
And that domination spilled over into the second half.
The Knights would use tough defense and hot shooting to push their lead to 24. The reigning MAAC regular season champs did not go quietly however. The Broncs put some pressure on defensively that helped bring the game back to 11 points.
“We have this saying, to just step on their throat, to just keep it going,” Smith said. “We know that a 20-point lead is nothing in college basketball and you can lose that lead quick as ever.”
The game never got any closer.
While the 84 points looked good, UCF could have had a lot more as they really struggled from the free throw line, only making 25 of their 45 free throws. There were 55 fouls called in the game in total.
“A little disappointed about how we shot our free throws,” Dawkins said. “These guys are still adjusting, they haven’t played together that long, as well as just the jitters of being out there in front of the crowd.”
Taylor had a big game finishing with 22 points and 4 assists. Both Dawkins and Smith had a double-doubles in their first game as Knights.
Fall only finished with four points and six boards as he sat with foul trouble for some of the game but did have five blocks.
This was also Dawkins’ 200th win in his coaching career.
“I cherish each win, because I know how hard it is for them to come by,” Dawkins said. “It just means I’ve had a lot of good players and I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with them.”
The Knights are back in action against FAU this Sunday at CFE Arena.