ORLANDO (UCFKnights.com) – It wasn’t the typical Johnny Dawkins led UCF men’s basketball game. The team that has been one of the top defensive programs in the nation the last two and half season wasn’t able to hold Georgia Southern down on defense. Instead, the Knights got it done on offense, winning a 95-88 shootout against the visiting Eagles Tuesday at CFE Arena.
“They are a very good basketball team,” UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said after the win. “They average 88 points per game and you can see why. I give our guys credit, we beat a very good basketball team tonight when they were playing at their best. That’s what you want to see your team do.”
Georgia Southern (6-3) came into the game at 6-2 and averaging 88.5 points per game. UCF (8-2) wasn’t able to hold the Eagles under their average, but thanks to some small ball later in the game and a career night from senior BJ Taylor, the Knights prevailed for their fourth straight win at home.
When the Eagles took a 77-74 lead with 4:20 to play, it was Taylor – The American Preseason Player of the Year – who took it upon himself to lift the Knights. The Orlando native hit threes on back-to-back possessions and scored 15 points over the final 3:58 of the game.
“I thought our guys showed a lot of poise especially in the second half when they took the lead,” Dawkins said. “I thought our guys really locked in, stayed focus and made the plays down the stretch they needed to make. I am really happy about our guys’ effort in this win.”
Taylor finished with a career-high 35 points and went 6-of-9 from three-point range. He scored 27 of his 35 in the second half and added five assists with just one turnover.
“BJ has had some amazing moments and this was definitely one of the best I have seen him have down the stretch of a basketball game,” Dawkins said. “He was really locked in and it showed. He made big play after big play offensively for us.”
“I want to thank my teammates for looking for me,” Taylor added. “They looked for me when I was open and I got it going so that’s the biggest thing. They looked for me to get the shots off and encouraged me to take my looks when I had them and so that’s what it comes from.”
It wasn’t just Taylor though. For UCF to outscore the Eagles, the Knights needed to put five players in double figures for the first time this season.
Smith was turned to late in the game when UCF needed to go small to keep up with the Georgia Southern offense. Smith played center with Fall on the bench, and came up with a big three-point play to put UCF up 83-79 with just 2:41 to play. He also finished with 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season.
“I see a player that is maturing right before our eyes,” Dawkins said of Smith. “I see him starting to grow. The game seems to be slowing down for him out there now and he is starting to recognize situations a little bit quicker. He can be a very productive player for us, we have a lot of confidence in who we think he can become and I think you saw some glimpses of it tonight.”
The 95 points overall were the most in a game for the Knights under Dawkins. UCF is now 8-2 on the season, marking the program’s best start since the 2011-12 season.
The Knights aim to start 9-2 Sunday when they welcome in-state foe Stetson to CFE Arena for a 3 p.m. tipoff.
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