John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Drops Close Contest to ECU


March 2, 2010

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By John Denton

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - This time, there would be no comeback for UCF to force overtime. And just like four nights earlier in Marshall, the Knights were left with another crushing loss that frustrated the young, fatigued team.

UCF squandered a 13-point lead when it allowed a game-turning 17-0 run in the second half. The Knights did get within striking distance in the final seconds but couldn't get off a potential tying shot in a painful 68-66 loss to East Carolina.

A crowd of 4,644 at UCF Arena stayed until the very end when Isaac Sosa drilled a 3-pointer with five seconds to play. Then, the Knights snagged the inbounds pass away and seemed poised to tie the game, but point guard A.J. Rompza's drive-and-kick pass was tipped away and Taylor Young couldn't get off a shot before the final horn.

The loss was particularly painful considering that UCF lost 121-115 in triple overtime on Saturday at Marshall. The Knights would have been glad to get Tuesday night's game into overtime, but things did not go their way down the stretch.

``To be in this many close games and come out with losses, it's really frustrating,'' said Young, who had 15 points and three 3-pointers. ``We got casual and we have a big problem right now of not focusing for 40 minutes.''

UCF (13-16 overall and 5-10 in Conference USA play) closes out the regular season Saturday at Rice. The Knights were hoping to get two wins in the final week and go into next week's Conference USA tournament in Tulsa, Okla., with some momentum.

After Tuesday's game, UCF coach Kirk Speraw spoke with pride as he talked about the final home game for his son, senior guard Drew Speraw. But what bothered him was that UCF allowed the hangover from Saturday's loss to spill into Tuesday's second half.

``We were worried about this one for two days. You could feel it with our lack of energy and lack of focus and there was a casualness about it,'' Speraw said. ``We warned them, but we didn't heed the warnings. We just couldn't pop it. We had the lead at 11, 12 and 14, but we couldn't get it to 17 or 18.''

UCF got 16 points from A.J. Tyler. Keith Clanton added nine points and seven rebounds, while fellow forward P.J Gaynor added eight points and six rebounds. Freshman guard Marcus Jordan added six points and six assists.

It was the final home game for Drew Speraw, who started at shooting guard in place of Sosa. Speraw had a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock in the first half that put the Knights up 30-18.

Said Coach Speraw: ``I'm very proud of Drew and what he's brought to the program. He's worked exceptionally hard to develop as a basketball player. ... The guys have a lot of respect for him and they listen to what he says. When I mentioned to them that I thought I was going to start him for the game, I had a bunch of guys raise their hand in the air and say, `He can start for me.' So he's that kind of respect with the players and that's not easy to have being a coach's son. We've very proud of what kind of person that he is and what he's brought to our team.''

UCF seemed in control of the game most of the night, going ahead by 13 points in the first half and 14 in the second period. UCF beat ECU 67-56 on Feb. 2 in North Carolina and seemed on the way to the sweep of the Pirates.

The Knights made four threes and held East Carolina to 36 percent shooting in the first half to take a 34-25 lead into intermission.

And that lead grew to 49-35 with 13:22 to play following a 10-2 run, one in which Tyler delivered six of the points. But some sloppy ball-handling jump-started ECU, allowing the Pirates (10-19, 4-11) to put together a game-turning 17-0 run.

Jamar Abrams, who scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half, had eight of East Carolina's points during the about-face stretch. He made six of 10 3-pointers for the game.

``I just remember them draining three after three and when we needed to get a big rebound we didn't get it,'' Young said. ``We just had no team defense. It just felt like they were getting what they wanted. We couldn't get stops, we couldn't get easy buckets and they made shots.''

Much like in Saturday's loss at Marshall, UCF scrapped and clawed to the very end, refusing to go away easily. The Knights played well in the final minutes to make it close. But the final possession, one in which Rompza looked to pass to an open shooter, rather than challenge the taller players inside, proved deflating for the Knights.

``A.J. felt like he saw something over there, but he had a pull-up jumper there. It's just a tough situation in that spot,'' Speraw said. ``That last play didn't lose us the game because a lot of things happened before that. At least we gave ourselves a chance. But it would have been nice to get a shot up on that.''

John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.