CONWAY, S.C. (UCFKnights.com) – Behind 21 points from junior Aubrey Dawkins, the UCF men’s basketball team will leave South Carolina with the Myrtle Beach Invitational Championship after defeating Western Kentucky by a score of 78-62 in the title game Sunday at the HTC Center.
Two years ago, head coach Johnny Dawkins’ Knights reached the final of their in-season tournament. In his first season at the helm, Dawkins led his new squad to wins over Mississippi State and Charleston before falling to Villanova in the final of the Charleston Classic.
While unable to get over the early-season hump, that team made history for UCF, eventually reaching the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament. This time, two years later, the Knights (4-1) went up and over said hump, winning three games in four days to take the title in Myrtle Beach.
“I thought experience was huge in a game like this,” Dawkins said. “They’re the younger team and we’ve been in situations like this. Two years ago we were playing in the same type of game in another tournament and we weren’t quite there and we came up a little short.”
Will this group make history? That’s yet to be seen, but after an early slip-up against FAU, victories over Cal State Fullerton, Saint Joseph’s and Western Kentucky (3-2) have put the Knights back on the right track, with confidence high yet again heading into the rest of non-conference action.
Sunday’s title didn’t come easy for UCF. In fact, Western Kentucky, which defeated West Virginia to reach the final, scored the first seven points of the game and held a 17-6 lead almost midway through the first half.
“They jumped on us early and it really tested our guys’ resolve because they punched us right away,” Coach Dawkins said after the game. “But I thought our guys responded and chipped toward halftime.”
As the team got into a flow defensively, and junior guard Aubrey Dawkins got into an offensive groove, the Knights stormed back.
A turnaround jumper by Dawkins with six minutes left cut the Hilltopper lead to just three points and the Knights went into the break trailing by just four, 32-28.
“I challenged our guys at halftime,” Coach Dawkins said. “We were playing a very good basketball team and we knew it was going to be a battle. I said ‘We can’t start the second half the way we started the first half. We have to play UCF basketball.’ We came out focused and moved the basketball well and our defense picked up.”
As was the case earlier in the weekend, the start of the second half was integral to the Knights gaining the momentum. Dawkins hit back-to-back threes to give UCF its first lead of the game, and his third of the half increased the Knight lead to seven points, at 41-34 with 17:07 to play in the game.
Eventually, growing the lead to double digits, the Knights solid defense proved too much for Western Kentucky, and UCF held on for the 78-62 victory.
Dawkins was named Tournament MVP after scoring 21 points on five three-pointers in the title game. The junior averaged 15.7 points per game in the three wins to lead UCF to the championship.
“I’m really proud of Aubrey,” Coach Dawkins said. “I’m happy for him because he’s been shaking off some rust and to see him play the way we know he’s capable of playing was good. He couldn’t have picked a better time to do it.”
Tacko Fall, who had 13 points, six rebounds and two blocks on Sunday, also earned All-Tournament Team honors. The UCF center averaged over 12 points, over eight rebounds and three blocks per game on the weekend.
B.J. Taylor and Frank Bertz also scored in double figures in the win over Western Kentucky, totaling 13 and 11, respectively.
Terrell Allen, who led the Knights with 22 points in the semifinal win over Saint Joseph’s, was stellar once again on Sunday. The point guard had eight points, but led the way with seven points and had just one turnover.
As a team, the Knights only turned the ball over 11 times. UCF turned the Hilltoppers over 15 times and outscored WKU 22-9 off of turnovers.
UCF will return home and hit the court again Saturday, Nov. 24. The Knights host Northern Kentucky at 6 p.m. at CFE Arena.
TICKETS FOR 2018-19
Fans can purchase tickets for the 2018-19 UCF men's basketball season by calling (407) 823-1000 or online here: https://ucfknights.co/mbb1819tix.
😁 MOOD 😁 pic.twitter.com/AuLtygaeEg— UCF Men's Basketball (@UCF_MBB) November 19, 2018