Utilizing only eight players, including five newcomers, the UCF men’s basketball team found a way to win Saturday evening in a 74-61 season-opening victory over visiting Saint Thomas. The game at the UCF Arena certainly was not pretty, but a win is a win, especially for a team that is lacking some of its main contributors.
Keith Clanton totaled a game-high 18 points for the Knights, who shot 50.0 percent overall for the contest. The junior forward also blocked six shots as UCF swatted 14 shots for the game.
UCF led 37-28 at the break, but the Bobcats (1-3) got within three points six minutes into the second stanza when David Nesbitt scored inside. The hosts responded with a 9-0 run that Tristan Spurlock capped with a 3-pointer at the 12:22 mark that handed the Knights a 50-38 advantage. The Bobcats never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Isaiah Sykes started at point guard as the Knights were without both A.J. Rompza and Marcus Jordan. The sophomore, who usually plays at the small forward position, totaled 15 points, six rebounds and six assists. UCF did turn the ball over 20 times. The Knights also made just 26-of-47 free throw attempts (55.3 percent).
“We’re just happy for the victory. Give Saint Thomas credit. They were very competitive and physical,” UCF head coach Donnie Jones said. “The guys found a way to win. It is much better to win ugly, and we found a way to do that. We are just happy with the victory tonight.”
The game was the first of two in three days for the Knights. UCF will head to Tallahassee tomorrow and will meet the Seminoles Monday at 7 p.m. The game will air on ESPN3. The Knights have not played Florida State since 1988. After advancing to the Sweet 16 last season, Florida State is receiving votes in both national polls.
Rod Days started at shooting guard, becoming the first freshman to start a season opener for the Knights since 2008. Days finished with 14 points, and Spurlock, who was playing in his first game at UCF after transferring from Virginia, chipped in with 12 points and a game-high seven rebounds.
“It felt good,” Spurlock said of making his UCF debut. “I know I still have some rust to get off and a couple of things that I need to work on. But it felt good to be out there, finally playing.”
Spurlock logged 37 minutes and both Clanton and Sykes spent 35 minutes on the floor.
Jeffrey Remmington led Saint Thomas with 15 points.
UCF and Saint Thomas were meeting for the first time since 1997. The season-opening win was the ninth in a row for the Knights.