Facing a team receiving votes in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, UCF (17-9, 4-9 C-USA) led by as many as 19 points early in the second half and then held off a furious UTEP (20-7, 8-4) rally. Keith Clanton recorded a double-double in the win, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
The contest concluded a stretch of three-consecutive road games for the Knights. UCF played at UAB Saturday. The Knights will return to action Saturday, hosting Southern Miss at the UCF Arena.
“I am so proud of our guys,” UCF head coach Donnie Jones said. “What these guys have been through on this road trip – three games in six days. We’ve had a few chances to win games, but shots were not falling for us. Today, shots went down. We worked the clock, and got the ball to the right people. I am really proud because we got the lead in this game, and when we had it, we never lost it, and that is a tough thing to do against a team as good as UTEP.”
UCF outscored the Miners 39-25 in the opening half, when UTEP shot just 33.3 percent from the floor. The key for the Knights was a 23-8 run midway through the period. A pair of reserves -A.J. Rompza and Isaiah Sykes – led the charge during the spurt. Rompza hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight points during the run, while Sykes recorded all seven of his points in the stretch.
UCF shot 66.7 percent in the opening half, and made all six of its tries from 3-point range.
The game against the Miners was originally slated to be played on Feb. 2, but was postponed due to a winter storm in El Paso.
Backed by a boisterous crowd of 9,824 on President’s Day, the Miners got within eight points with 10:02 to play when Randy Culpepper scored two of his game-high 25 points. But UCF answered right back. Clanton scored six points during an 8-0 run, and his 3-point play at the 4:46 mark gave the Knights a 60-44 edge.
The loss was the first in El Paso for the Miners since the team dropped its season opener to Pacific on Nov. 12.
UCF shot 47.9 percent overall and the Knights made 22-of-29 (75.9 percent) of their attempts from the free-throw line. The Knights’ bench outscored UTEP’s reserves, 24-10.
Marcus Jordan totaled 13 points in the victory, and P.J. Gaynor added 10 points before fouling out. Playing without injured center Tom Herzog, UCF also got eight points from A.J. Tyler and four points and three boards from Dwight McCombs.
Rompza, who has scored in double figures in two-straight games, credited UCF’s win to the team effort that Jones was talking about prior to the game.
“I thought it was the whole team effort. We huddled up before the game, and I said `let’s play as a team today. Let’s have fun. Let’s share the ball. You can definitely tell that we did that today,” he said.