What looked like it was going to be an easy win for the UCF Men’s basketball team got turned on its head as they lost to FAU 80-79 on Sunday at CFE Arena.
“I thought FAU played with more passion and desire than we did tonight, and that’s disappointing,” coach Johnny Dawkins said.
The Knights (1-1) jumped on the Owls (2-0) early, racing out to a 12-0 lead to start the game and held them scoreless for the first 6:48. Led by Aubrey Dawkins, who had 12 first half points, the lead would get up to as much as 20.
“We were locked in defensively,” B.J. Taylor said of the early run. “We got stops and we were able to get out and run and we’re a lot better offensive team when we get stops and we’re able to get out in transition.
Then FAU went on a run of their own. Using offensive rebounds, of which the Owls had 17 for the game and opportunistic offense, they were able to cut it to a 37-31 lead at the half.
“For our team, we’re still trying to learn to have a killer instinct and what that means,” Dawkins said. “When you’re building leads like that and have momentum, you have to keep it going.”
The second half followed a similar script as the Knights came out and pushed the lead back to 11 points, four minutes into the half, only to have the Owls come back again.
Spurred by a seven-point possession as a result of a Taylor flagrant foul, the Owls were able to chip away at the UCF lead and eventually took their first lead of the night with 12:25 left in the game.
And just like so many times before, it was Taylor who sparked the Knights’ offense. And he did it not once, but twice. Taylor scored seven straight points to help the Knights open the game back up to a double-digit lead with 9:03 left.
That would not be enough however as the Owls would take the lead back with six minutes left. And once again, Taylor answered.
“He’s one of the guys that going to help close games for us” Dawkins said of Taylor. “We’re talking about under the three-or four-minute mark, you’re going to go your go-to guys and if they have their good opportunities, they’re going take them. And he had good opportunities.”
He scored the final nine points, including the go-ahead bucket with seven seconds.
But the Owls’ Simeon Lepichev won the game on yet another offensive rebound after an air ball with 0.8 seconds left.
“It was going to be one of those games where whoever got the ball last would have a chance to win, and unfortunately they got the ball last,” Dawkins said. “They made a big play on an offensive rebound and so that’s where the game was won, on the boards, they got 17 of them.”
In all, Taylor had 29 points on 9-14 shooting, including 14 of the Knights’ final 19 points.
The only other Knight to score in double figures was Dawkins who had 16 points and five rebounds on a much less efficient 6-16 shooting.
Defense and rebounding have been a trademark for the Knights during Johnny Dawkins’ tenure, but those things have not been strengths this season, as UCF was outrebounded by undersized FAU and let them shoot 51 percent in the second half. This is something they want to fix
“Our whole system is predicated on defense and we didn’t get the stops that we needed to get,” Taylor said. “They airball the last shot, it goes over the hoop, a guy tips it in. But I think we didn’t get the stops we needed to get so, going into practice next week, we got to focus on getting back to defense.”
The Knights also continued their struggles from the free throw and three-point line, only hitting 17 of their 26 free throws and 6 of their 20 threes.
UCF will look to bounce back when it hits the road to take on Cal State Fullerton on Thursday.