ORLANDO (UCFKnights.com) – In its final non-conference tune-up, the UCF men’s basketball team had one of its best performances of 2018, dominating visiting Illinois State to the tune of a 77-56 victory Friday night at CFE Arena.
Easily the Knights’ (10-2) most dominating first half of the season thus far, UCF scored the first eight points of the game and held the Redbirds (7-6) down possession after possession to build what seemed an insurmountable 43-18 lead at the break.
Illinois State’s 18 first half points were the least of any UCF opponent in a half this season. The Knights held the Redbirds – who came in averaging over 77 points per game and shooting just under 44 percent from the floor – to just seven field goals on 29 percent shooting.
“I thought it was one of our best halves of defense,” UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said after the game. “I thought our guys were really active, both our feet and our hands. We were in passing lanes, getting deflections, we were protecting the paint well and that was something we went to the game concentrating on. I was happy to see us have that type of first half.”
UCF extended its lead to as much as 29, at 52-23 on one of Aubrey Dawkins’ five threes in the contest, but the Redbirds didn’t give up.
Illinois State cut the UCF lead down to just 13 points before Ceasar DeJesus found Collin Smith in the lane for a layup and BJ Taylor knocked down a three on the ensuing possession. The 18-point cushion was enough for the Knights to cruise to victory.
“I thought offensively that we moved the ball as well as we have all year,” Coach Dawkins said. “We really shared it, guys were making a lot of connecting plays.”
The Knights had 14 assists in the game, led by Taylor’s game-high five, but what was even more impressive was that UCF finished with just eight turnovers. Somewhat of a problem in past seasons, the Knights have taken care of the ball in the early part of 2018-19, totaling single digit turnovers in four of their last seven outings.
UCF was also able to turn the Redbirds over, outscoring Illinois State 22-8 off of their 16 miscues. The Knights had a season high nine steals, including two each from Taylor, Chad Brown and Frank Bertz.
Taylor scored 15 points in the win, but it was Dawkins who led the way for the second straight game, finishing with 18 points on a season-best five three-pointers. The redshirt junior has now scored in double figures in each of his first 12 games as a Knight, a program first.
UCF had four players in double figures, as Smith finished with 12 and Tacko Fall totaled 11 points to go with a season-high 12 rebounds. It marked his second double-double of the season and the 20th of his career.
The Knights head into the holiday break at 10-2 with both of their losses coming on buzzer-beaters. UCF begins American Athletic Conference play on Jan. 2 at home against Temple.
“We are looking forward to the new year and looking forward to conference play,” Coach Dawkins said. “Everyone is starting 0-0 and it’s going to be a tough 18 games.”
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.