A focused UCF team rolled to another big victory Saturday as the Knights, who are now 5-0 under new head coach Donnie Jones, handled visiting Alabama State, 84-48, at the UCF Arena. The Knights, who shot 56.6 percent overall, clearly were not looking ahead to their next game, a Wednesday showdown with No. 14 Florida at the new Amway Center in downtown Orlando.
Jones has instructed his team to truly take it one game at a time, and UCF shrugged off a slow start Saturday to dominate the Hornets (1-5). After going down by five at the start of the game, the Knights used a 24-8 run early in the first half to grab the lead for good and pull away for another easy win. The Knights led 43-23 at the break after shooting 65.2 percent in the first half, but continued to play hard on both ends of the floor in the second stanza, which impressed Jones.
“I think you need to keep pressing, keep pushing and keep playing hard,” he said. “You need to try to build on your lead and play every possession. Our whole thing is to play every possession hard.”
For the fourth time in five games this season, the Knights shot better than 50.0 percent from the field. UCF got strong shooting efforts from sophomore Marcus Jordan (6-of-8), who finished with a team-high 18 points and classmate Keith Clanton (6-of-9, 13 points, nine rebounds). The Knights recorded 22 assists on 30 made field goals.
“I think we are making a lot of extra passes,” Jordan said. “Nobody cares who scores. So if somebody passes it to me and I see an open man, I pass it to him and he will knock down an open jumper. That is how it is going to go all season.”
The Knights got contributions from a number of players, including reserves P.J. Gaynor and Jarvis Davis. Gaynor scored a career-high 13 points and grabbed six boards, and the freshman point guard Davis totaled a season-best 10 points and dished out five assists, many of them on the fastbreak.
“Jarvis is a freshman. He is learning,” Jones said. “I thought he had an exceptional week of practice. He is learning to take the coaching and see what his role is. I thought he did a terrific job tonight.”
It was another blowout win for the Knights, who have a +32.8 scoring margin in 2010-11. UCF has won four games by over 25 points this season.
UCF finished with a 42-27 edge on the glass. The Knights limited Alabama State to 34.5 percent shooting, and forced 16 turnovers.
The contest against Florida will have special meaning for Jones, who spent 11 years in Gainesville as an assistant under Billy Donovan, helping the program claim back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007.
“I will have the opportunity to coach against one of my friends, and a mentor,” Jones said. “I have great respect for one of the best college basketball coaches in the country. To have them here in our town is a great opportunity for our program.”
Despite the postgame focus on UCF’s next game, Jones had nothing but praise for his squad’s play both Saturday, and throughout the early part of the season.
“I think confidence is a key factor. It is usually a result of hard work. These guys have worked hard since the day we arrived here last spring. That is the thing that we tell them. They do take good shots and they do work hard.”