ORLANDO (UCFKnights.com) – With two of its best players out due to injury, and a third – all-conference point guard B.J. Taylor – missing most of the second half with an injury suffered mid-game, the UCF men’s basketball team fought through adversity to win 88-79 over Mercer on opening night at CFE Arena.
“It was a great first game,” UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said. “We knew Mercer was very good. They’ve been battle tested. So we knew it was a game that we would have to win that they weren’t going to give us the game.”
The Knights (1-0) clamped down defensively in the second half, holding the Bears (0-1) to just eight points in the first 13:30 of the frame and a mere 29.2 percent shooting from the floor for the entire period.
“I saw them play with a lot of poise,” Dawkins said. “We started really understanding how we had to build the lead and that was getting stops. I thought we really got dialed in defensively, that led us to our fast break getting out in the open court. We have guys that you see that can make plays when they get out and get that space so it was really kind of fun to see us kind of how we did it.”
After trailing 47-46 at the break, the Knights found themselves tied 50-50 just over two minutes into the second half. That’s when UCF turned things around. An offensive rebound and put-back by Rokas Ulvydas ignited a 12-0 run that proved to be the difference in the game.
Six different Knights scored during the stretch, which paralleled the game as a whole, with all nine players who earned minutes giving significant contributions. All nine scored, eight finished with at least six points, and four were in double figures.
“To me he’s one of the really good finishers in the paint,” Dawkins said of DeJesus. “They have a knack for going in for him so he does a really good job of finishing around the basket for his size. I’d like to say I taught him all that, but I’d be lying. The young man is just really good at understanding angles and how to use the rim to finish. It was good to have him out there tonight.”
A.J. Davis ties career high with 15 rebounds
- Davis finished the night with 15 boards, a career-best he has achieved three times now
- He also added eight points, three assists and three blocked shots
- The fifth year senior played a team high 34 minutes
- With Tacko Fall on the sidelines nursing an injury, the Knights reserves filled in nicely
- Ulvydas scored seven points and had four rebounds in his first game as a Knight
- Brown, who brought the energy as always, scored six points, had three offensive rebounds and blocked three shots
McSpadden scores 13 and plays defensive stopper in second half
After Mercer’s Ria’n Holland scored 21 points on five three-pointers in the first half, Dawkins challenged McSpadden to step up and shut Holland down. Holland scored just 10 second half points with five coming at the free throw line in the final two minutes with the game out of reach.
The Knights will continue the three-game homestand to start the year on Wednesday. UCF hosts Gardner-Webb at 7 p.m.
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