With its 79-74 victory over visiting Colorado Wednesday night at CFE Arena, the UCF men’s basketball team earned its first ever win in the National Invitation Tournament and advanced to the second round to take on No. 1 seed Illinois State.
The fourth-seeded Knights (22-11) will play at Illinois State Monday at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
“We are fortunate to get the win and are excited about moving on,” UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said after the game. “I was really proud of our guys’ overall play. I thought that was one of our best offensive performances. Usually, we hang our hat on defense, but today, I thought our offense carried us. It could not have been a better time because we needed all the points we scored tonight.”
Dawkins, who in his first season at UCF has matched the program’s most wins in a season in over a decade, has had plenty of success in the NIT as a head coach. The former Stanford head coach was 9-1 in the tournament coming into Wednesday’s contest, winning both the 2012 and 2015 NITs.
After hosting the first NIT game in UCF history, Dawkins improved his mark to 10-1 with the five-point win over the Buffaloes (19-15).
“Tad [Boyle] does a great job with his group,” Dawkins said. “I have played him and his team enough in the Pac-12 that they always play the right way. They always shoot the ball well. They are always tough defensively. He does a terrific job.”
Colorado scored the first basket of the game, but after a baseline dunk by A.J. Davis gave UCF a 4-3 advantage less than three minutes into the game, the Buffaloes never led again.
Matt Williams led UCF in the first half, scoring 13 of his 17 points in the first 20 minutes. The senior went 5-of-8 from the floor and a perfect 3-for-3 from long distance to give the Knights a 38-34 lead at the break.
“We were all very excited getting this win,” Williams said. “We’ve worked hard this week trying to prepare for this win. We were just full of excitement, joy. We enjoyed it for the moment and then Coach let us know that we’ll be back in the gym tomorrow for practice.”
Leading 51-44 midway through the second half sophomore B.J. Taylor connected on one of his five three-pointers on the night and scored 18 straight UCF points to keep the Knights in front late in the game.
Colorado did not quit. The Buffaloes hit four threes in the final two minutes of the game to get as close as two points, at 76-74, before Davis sealed it with free throws in the final seconds.
Taylor scored 21 of his team-high 26 points in the second half to lead the Knights to victory. He went 5-of-8 from beyond the arc and dealt out four assists.
“It would be great for us,” Taylor said on making a long postseason run. “There’s only going to be a handful of teams that finish this season with a win. We’ve got a chance to finish this season off with a championship. We definitely want to send the seniors out the right way.”
The Knights are one step closer to that goal after putting forth one of its best offensive performance of the season. UCF shot 54.3 percent from the floor and 54.5 percent from beyond the arc, while only turning the ball over 10 times.
Williams and Davis finished with 17 points each, while Tacko Fall added 10. Davis and Fall led UCF with eight rebounds apiece, and Fall added three blocked shots to his single-season UCF record (84).
“It was A.J.’s birthday so that says it all,” Dawkins said. “What a day. A.J. saved one of his best games of the season for postseason. He had a great game today, not because of the points he scored. I thought that it was his best all-around game. He is always getting you the energy defensively. He makes plays. He rebounds the basketball. He did so many things.”
The victory marked just the second win for UCF over a team currently in the Pac-12. The Knights defeated Utah in 2006.