Facing an active Stetson zone that gave ACC power Wake Forest fits recently, UCF desperately needed a weapon on Tuesday night to find the gaps in the defense and produce points.
And once junior guard Isaac Sosa saw one, then two and a third straight 3-poitner fall in rapid-fire succession early in the game, the Knights were on their way to another easy, breezy victory.
Sosa came off the bench and jump-started UCF’s offense early in the game, scoring 22 points and hitting six 3-pointers as the Knights eventually pulled away from the Hatters in an 85-58 victory at Stetson’s Edmunds Center.
“In the scouting report we knew that we were going to have open shots and it was just a matter of us finding the shooters. Coach wants to shoot it with confidence and that’s what I do,” Sosa said. “I need those three (in the first half) because I haven’t had that in a while. But the credit goes to my teammates for finding me and knowing who was shooting it well in the game.”
Under the direction of first-year coach Donnie Jones, UCF is 4-0 for the first time since the 2006-07 season. That year, the Knights went 22-9 and finished second in Conference USA play. Jones last had a team start 4-0 at Marshall in 2007-08.
A crowd of 4,249 – approximately 1,000 of them Knights fans – witnessed the game at Stetson’s Edmunds Center. It’s the third largest crowd to see a game at Stetson since 2001 and ranking just ahead of the 2004 crowd (4,228) for a game between the Knights and the Hatters. UCF leads the all-time series 22-15.
Jones was as impressed with the support of UCF’s fans as he was his team’s play on the court.
“Outstanding. The Knights fans who travelled here were amazing,” Jones said. “I walked out there and saw all of the black and gold and it was really good for our guys. It motivated them and made them feel proud to have our crowd follow us up here. It made a difference.”
Sosa made the shots that decided the game, but sophomore guard Marcus Jordan had the play of the game that UCF fans will most likely will be buzzing about for days to come. Jordan stole an in-bounds pass near the free throw line, dribble twice and dunked over two Stetson players for the first dunk of his college career. Jordan finished with 15 points, eight of which came from the free throw line.
UCF came into the game well-rested, having had four days to recover and prepare after the emotional defeat of USF last week before the fourth-largest crowd to ever see a game at UCF Arena. The Knights are off until Saturday afternoon when they host Alabama State at 5 p.m.
Stetson, UCF’s former Atlantic Sun rivals, pulled off a shocker of an upset 11 nights ago when it beat Wake Forest 89-79 in Winston-Salem, N.C. It was the Hatters’ third defeat of an Atlantics Coast Conference team, but the first since 1982.
Sosa came into the game with just six 3-pointers in UCF first three games, but he had five by halftime on Tuesday. He hit threes on three straight possessions during one stretch of the first half, helping UCF blow out to a big lead.
“He’s a key player for us and one of the best shooters in America,” Jones said of Sosa. “I give our guys credit for finding him, but he definitely stretches the defense as well. He’s a stretcher and when he’s doing that we have to make sure we get it inside as well because it’s open. We were able to do that in the second half.”
Sophomore power forward Keith Clanton had 21 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots for a UCF team that pulled away in the second half. UCF’s relentless pressure defense and fast pace wore on Stetson, who committed 20 turnovers and shot just 41.5 percent.
UCF led 32-25 at the break, but it squandered an opportunity to break the game open. The Knights made nine of their first 14 shots, but missed eight of 10 shots and turned the ball over four times in the final 7 minutes of the first half. Stetson ran the ball back at the Knights and got as close as six points of the lead late in the first half.
Sosa had 17 points by halftime, steadying the Knights offense until their defense and inside game could take over in the second half. UCF got 25 free throw attempts in the second half by focusing more on pounding the ball inside.
“We needed (Sosa) to have a big role. We’re bringing both him and A.J. Tyler off the bench and both of those guys could be starters, obviously,” Jones said. “But we do that because of offense, experience and energy. What you always worry about is the zone is something we haven’t seen a lot of yet, so we tried to visualize that in practice the past four days. We hit some threes right off that separated us from a distance. I knew we were going to have to get the ball inside and we made the right adjustments.”
John Denton’s Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at [email protected]