The UCF men’s basketball team is ready for its next challenge. Winners of three straight games in the National Invitation Tournament, the Knights (24-11) are heading to Madison Square Garden in New York for the NIT Semifinals on Tuesday against TCU.
“I’m excited to go back to the Big Apple and have a chance to play for a championship,” Head Coach Johnny Dawkins said. “Having the ability to take this team and share that experience is big for our program, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Dawkins has been there before, winning NIT Championships in 2012 and 2015 as the head coach at Stanford. After three NIT wins at the helm of the Knights program, he now holds an all-time record of 14-1 in the tournament.
Can’t make it to New York to cheer the Knights on? Head over to UCF’s watch party at the CFE Arena. Doors will open at 8:30 p.m. Game starts at 9 p.m. Free popcorn and drinks will be available to the first 250 students who show up. Concessions will be open for everyone else.
“We’re going to have to play well. As well as we’ve played to get there, we’re going to have to be better,” Dawkins said. “There were 32 teams in this field when it started and there are just four left, so we need to be at our best when we go to New York if we expect to bring back a championship.”
Orlando native and UCF leading scorer B.J. Taylor is excited to represent his hometown.
“We’re extremely excited. It’s a great opportunity for us to compete for a championship,” Taylor said. “We’re excited for the opportunity to represent UCF and get out there to make a good showing in the Garden.”
Prior to this season, the UCF men’s basketball team had participated in four NCAA Tournaments and one NIT, never having won a game in either. This year’s squad has already earned three NIT victories and the Knights know they’re making history.
“It’s awesome,” American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year Tacko Fall said. “Before I got here, this was what was sold to me. To come here to UCF and do something that no one has done before, so it really means a lot.”
To keep the team’s recent success going in its final two games of the season, Dawkins is leaning on experiences from earlier in the season.
“All the tournaments that we’ve played in have helped prepare us for the situation we’re going to face next week,” he said. “Any time you can play in tournaments with the fields that we had in the Charleston Classic and our conference tournament, that’s great prep for this tournament in the NIT.
“We’re going to use those experiences of how to prepare for each one of our opponents, how to take care of our bodies and get our rest,” Dawkins said. “All the things that go into being successful, our guys have done in other tournaments, so hopefully we’ll use it again for this one.”
The Knights fell in the championship game of the Charleston Classic to Villanova and were ousted in the American Athletic Conference Championship by eventual winner SMU. UCF is hoping for a different outcome this time around.
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