But it was how the 6-foot-8, 230-pound power forward finished the game that was more important on this night.

Clanton helped UCF break open a close game down the stretch, converting two tough drives to the hoop, swatting a shot and swiping a steal with 55 seconds remaining to preserve the Knights’ 63-50 defeat of Bethune-Cookman.

“I had sat out a lot in the second half so I had a lot of energy and I just tried to come in and play hard and contribute to the team at the finish,” said Clanton, who finished with nine points, five rebounds and five blocked shots. “(Starting) was real significant. I told my mom that I was starting and I just wanted to come out and play hard (down the stretch) because I didn’t play that good in the first half.”

UCF improved to 7-2 overall and 5-0 at UCF Arena with a victory that was at times sloppy and a mess offensively for both teams. Bethune-Cookman (5-4) got within one point early in the second period and within two late in the game, but the Knights did enough down the stretch to get the victory. B-CU did not have a field goal in the final 2:27, a stretch when UCF went on a game-closing 10-0 kick.

“We were very inconsistent in all phases throughout the game, but we stepped up and made it difficult on them to score down the stretch and that’s what we needed,” UCF coach Kirk Speraw said. “No matter what had happened earlier in the game, you have to fight, scratch and claw and our guys did that.”

Foremost among the players fighting to the finish was Clanton, the four-star recruit from Orlando whom many think could have a chance to play in the NBA someday.

With UCF up just 49-47 late in the game, Clanton looked mature beyond his teenage years with his poise in the clutch. He twice drove the ball right at B-CU 6-foot-9, 320-pound center Albert Abrahams and finished strong despite getting hard contact.

And then, Clanton snuffed out any hopes that the Wildcats had of an upset when he stuffed the shot of Javoris Bryant with 1:11 to play.

“He came up big for us with a couple of blocks when we needed to have some critical stops,” Speraw said. “We ran one play for him to attack their big guy and he did a nice job getting a layup and a free throw. He stepped up when we needed him to.”

A.J. Tyler led UCF with 18 points, while Isaac Sosa added 13 points and three 3-pointers. Point guard A.J. Rompza stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, five steals and three assists.

UCF shot 55 percent from the floor in the first half, but the game was still relatively close (30-23) because of turnovers. The Knights turned the ball over 18 times in the game.

Speraw said he gave Clanton his first start as a way to alleviate some of the stress upon struggling sophomore forward P.J. Gaynor. But he also made the switch because he knew Clanton was ready and has shown steady progress in increasing his intensity and the speed of his play since the open of training camp. And the switch to Clanton paid off in a big way as Gaynor added 10 points, nine rebounds, two blocks and a steal off the bench, while Clanton did major damage at the end of the game.

Speraw said Clanton’s high basketball IQ is most evident on the defensive end where he’s rarely out of position and uses great timing with which to block or alter shots.

“His timing on blocking shots is pretty impressive,” Speraw said. “He certainly doesn’t do it on his verticality. But he has good timing and a good sense and feel for the game. He reads and knows what they are going to do and he gets himself to the right spot.” Clanton admitted that he’s more at ease now than last month when the season just started and he was trying to figure out where he fit into the UCF offense. Speraw wants him to play with more fire and to seek out shots, and that’s certainly what he did in Saturday’s closing minutes.

“The transition is getting easier for me and I feel more comfortable at the offensive end so far,” said Clanton, who made all four of his field goal attempts.

Source: John Denton’s Knights Insider appears several times per week on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at [email protected]