CINCINNATI (UCFKnights.com) – It’s extremely difficult to win at Cincinnati. Not just for UCF. In fact, coming into Thursday’s battle between the second place Bearcats and the third place Knights, Cincinnati had won 47 out of its last 49 home games the last three seasons.
UCF (19-6, 9-4) nearly became the third team to beat the No. 25 Bearcats (22-4, 11-2) at home the since 2016-17, but couldn’t pull out the road victory, eventually falling 60-55 in American Athletic Conference action at Fifth Third Arena.
The Knights trailed 26-18 at halftime, turning the ball over 15 times and shooting just 35.0 percent from the floor.
“The game is about situations,” UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said. “A couple of possessions here or there in the second half. We have to be better in that stretch, but really the first half was where the tone was set. We just could not get anything going.”
The Knights then dominated to start the second half, using a 12-0 run to take a 30-26 lead and eventually outscoring Cincinnati 18-2 to gain a 36-28 advantage just five minutes into the frame.
Aubrey Dawkins was critical in UCF’s ability to regain the lead, scoring eight of the Knights’ 18 during the spurt. Additionally, the junior guard scored 15 of his game-high 18 points in the final 20 minutes of action.
The Knights only turned the ball over three times in the second half and shot a blistering 56.0 percent from the field and went 6-of-12 from beyond the arc.
“Our pace was better in the second half and I thought our ball movement was better as well,” Dawkins said. “In the second half we really played off of each other with connecting plays and it was effective.”
A 6-0 run cut the UCF lead to 40-38, but three pointers on back-to-back possessions by Frank Bertz brought the lead back to six, at 46-40, with 7:56 to play.
That’s when the Bearcats were able to get right back into it. Keith Williams knocked down a three and then Nysier Brooks finished in the lane, as Tacko Fall’s hand found his jersey and the UCF center was called for a flagrant foul. Brooks hit one-of-two from the line to tie the game at 46 apiece.
It was Dawkins again who put the Knights in front with a fadeaway jumper, but after two free throws from Jarron Cumberland, and a running floater off the backboard as the shot clock expired for Justin Jenifer, Cincinnati took a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
The Bearcats withstood every UCF punch the final 3:12 to hold on for the 60-55 home victory.
“They stepped up and made big plays at the end, but we have to be better,” Dawkins said. “We can’t have 20 or 25-minute efforts.”
Dawkins led the way with 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. BJ Taylor, who scored eight points in the first half, finished with 12 for the game. Tacko Fall added seven points and a game-high five blocked shots.
Cumberland, who came into the game leading the league in scoring, was held to just 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting, as Terrell Allen led the defensive effort on the perimeter to try to contain the Preseason First Team All-Conference honoree.
Williams and Jenifer led the way with 12 points each, three of which came from the latter to put the Bearcats up 56-50 with 24 seconds left and ultimately put the game away.
UCF returns home to host SMU this weekend. The Knights and the Mustangs are set to square off Sunday at noon on CBS Sports Network.
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.