ORLANDO (UCFKnights.com) – Many have been expecting unprecedented success out of the UCF men’s basketball team in 2018-19. The praise rolled in before a number of this year’s Knights’ key contributors ever even took the floor in black and gold.
On Tuesday night – opening night – those new pieces blended with the old stars, as UCF (1-0) handled visiting Rider to the tune of an 84-70 victory, showing the potential to reach some of the lofty goals others have bestowed upon them.
It was anything but a pushover in game one. The Broncs (0-1) won the regular season championship in the MAAC last season, played in the NIT, and have been picked to win their league again this season after returning all five of their starters and over 90 percent of their scoring in 2018-19.
Rider came to play, and some of the new Knights had to shake out the jitters of their first game in over a year, or over two years in the case of Aubrey Dawkins.
The Broncs sprinted out to a 12-5 early lead, knocking down three of their first four three-pointers attempted.
UCF got back within two points, at 18-16, but never took the lead until Dawkins hit a turnaround jumper as part of a 13-0 run to end the first half. Dawkins’ bucket came after BJ Taylor connected on back-to-back drives to tie the game at 34-34 with 2:21 to play in the frame.
Threes by Terrell Allen and Taylor gave UCF a 43-34 lead at the break. The Knights held Rider to just seven points in the final five minutes of the first half.
“I thought it was really big for us,” UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said of the run. “They had been playing well and got off to a hot start and I thought our guys were battling uphill most of the first half. I thought BJ got on the run hitting some shots.”
After the break, UCF kept on the pressure, ultimately using a 27-4 run to take a 57-38 advantage with 16:05 to play in the game. The Knights eventually led by as many as 24 points before fighting off a later Rider run to win by 14 in the opener.
Key to all of the first night success were a pair of newcomers. Dawkins and George Washington transfer Collin Smith both finished with double-doubles in their first games at UCF.
Dawkins had 16 points, including 5-of-7 from the free throw line, 10 rebounds, and added two steals and two blocked shots.
“I know he had some jitters to get out and couldn’t wait to play, it’s been a long time so I think you could see some of that out there but all-in-all, I think (he gave us a) huge lift,” Coach Dawkins said of Aubrey. “I thought (he) rebounded well and of course (he) scored some, but I was really happy with Aubrey’s performance considering how long he has been out.”
Smith, meanwhile, got to the line at will. Admittedly, he wished he made a few more. The 6-foot-11 forward totaled 14 points and a career high 13 rebounds, while assisting on three baskets and blocking one shot.
“I thought for his first game, he did a really good job,” Coach Dawkins said of Smith. “He had a double-double and I know he had some jitters being out for a year, but I thought he responded well. I thought he was aggressive and he attacked the glass and he is a good addition to our program.”
Lost in all of that may have been the fact that the American Athletic Conference Preseason Player of the Year still led the Knights in scoring. Taylor finished with 22 points for the 21st game of his career scoring 20 or more points, adding four assists and going 10-of-14 from the free throw line.
Terrell Allen also finished in double figures with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists, earning the start on opening night.
UCF outscored Rider 17-6 on the break and 21-12 off of turnovers. The Knights only turned it over 11 times, while forcing the Broncs into 17 miscues.
Game two for UCF is set for Sunday at 3 p.m. vs. FAU.
TICKETS FOR 2018-19
Fans excited about the 2018-19 UCF men's basketball season can purchase tickets today by calling (407) 823-1000 or online here: https://ucfknights.co/mbb1819tix.