The UCF men’s basketball team earned its first signature win of the Johnny Dawkins era Sunday afternoon, as the Knights defeated American Athletic Conference leading and No. 15 ranked Cincinnati by a score of 53-49 at CFE Arena.
“It was so special to walk off the court seeing fans rush the floor,” Dawkins said. “It was a wonderful experience. And that’s what we want to see. We have always said we’re not going to get anything special done without all of us being committed. That’s our student body, our community, our players and staff. Tonight, I think it all came together where everyone was engaged. I thought the students were great. I thought our fans were amazing. It was electric in there again tonight.”
Coming in winners of three in a row, including back-to-back triumphs on the road, the Knights returned to Orlando hungry to finish out the regular season home schedule on a high note. The Bearcats, at 25-3 and 14-1 in The American, having won 18 of their last 19 games and goals of winning the league’s regular-season title with just three games to go, undoubtedly had the same mindset.
After 40 minutes of nearly perfect defense in the half-court, the advantage went to the Knights. The nation’s leader in field goal percentage defense at 36.3 percent, UCF was even better on Sunday.
The Knights held a Cincinnati team that came in shooting 47 percent from the field and averaging 76.2 points per game to just 29.6 percent from the floor and 49 points. It marked the fifth time this season the Knights have held their opponent under 50 points.
“I give our kids a lot of credit,” Dawkins said. “For 40 minutes, to battle in that type of game, under that type of pressure defensively, is to be commended. I’m proud of our guys. It gives us an opportunity to keep on competing and that’s what we want to do.”
Offensively, it was the B.J. Taylor show. The sophomore was the only Knight in double figures, scoring a season-high 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the floor.
“Everybody was obviously excited about the win,” Taylor said. “We worked really hard this week to get prepared for this game. We knew it was going to be a dog fight and we were just determined to get the win.”
The biggest moment from the Orlando native came when the Knights led just 48-46 in the final minute of play. Taylor stepped up as he did all day long, stepping back for a fall away three-pointer on the wing to give the Knights a 51-46 lead with 33 seconds on the clock.
“I wanted him to stay aggressive, but I also wanted him to keep it moving,” Dawkins said of Taylor. “Tonight we called his number. He’s always stepped up and that’s what really good guards do.”
After a three by Cincinnati cut the UCF lead back to just two points, the Bearcats were forced to foul. As percentages would urge you to, Cincinnati fouled Tacko Fall, who came into Sunday shooting just 47.1 percent from the free throw line.
The 7-foot-6 big man stepped to the line with two seconds on the clock and hit both from the stripe to put the game away.
“I work on those free throws every day regardless of the situation,” Fall said. “It’s the same shot I take every day on the same court. It was just a routine shot. I just tried to make those shots and win the game.”
The Bearcats’ final heave was off the mark and the court storming ensued. The Knights improved to 19-10 overall and 10-7 in American Athletic Conference play, and UCF is now in sole possession of fourth place in the league standings.
The win marked just the fourth ever victory for UCF over a ranked opponent and the first since the Knights defeated No. 4 UConn in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament on Nov. 25, 2011. It was the second win over a ranked opponent at home and the first at CFE Arena.
Taylor led the Knights with 27 points, while Fall and A.J. Davis added seven each. Nick Banyard led UCF with 10 rebounds, his third straight game with double-digit boards. Fall, dominant defensively all day, added four blocks and is now just one shy of tying and two away from breaking the UCF single-season record.
UCF will finish out regular season play on Thursday. The Knights take on South Florida in the War On I-4 Rivalry Series at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.