John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Knocks Off No. 16 Florida for Historic Win


Dec. 1, 2010

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By John Denton

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - When the most significant victory in the history of UCF basketball was finally complete Wednesday night, Marcus Jordan and Keith Clanton bumped chests, Isaac Sosa furiously clapped his hands and head coach Donnie Jones was near tears as he greeted his vanquished mentor.

UCF's thrilling 57-54 defeat No. 16 Florida set off an avalanche of emotions for a basketball program that allowed itself to dream big and then went out and won the biggest game in school history. The second defeat of a ranked team in school history and the first-ever defeat of Florida left UCF athletics director Keith Tribble pumping his fist, Knights' fans throbbing with raw emotion and Jones searching for ways to describe for what UCF had just accomplished.

``I'm at a loss for words right now and it's all kind of surreal that this happened,'' said Jones, who notched his second big win of the young season in his first year at UCF. ``I'm really proud of our team. We had a chance several times throughout the game when it wasn't going our way, but we won it with our defense. We beat a good basketball team, we hung around and were fortunate to get the ball to bounce our way.''

UCF is 6-0 for the first time since the 2006-07 season because of much more than just fortunate bounces. There's a growing belief in the system that Jones has installed at UCF, and players such as Jordan and Clanton are seeing now that big things could be possible for the program this season.

``We're just being aggressive and making teams play our style of basketball and that's a huge reason why we're winning,'' said Jordan, who had 18 points and carried the UCF offense for long stretches. ``There definitely is a belief in what we're doing. There's a lot more freedom and we're making teams play our game.''

The game pitted Jones and Florida's Billy Donovan, who worked together previously for 11 years in Gainesville with the Gators (5-2). Jones and Donovan are still close friends and shared an embrace before the game near the center stripe. And when the game was over, Donovan told Jones three different times how proud of him he was for doing the coaching job that he has at UCF.

``I'm very, very proud for Donnie and the way that his team played. I've worked with him so closely and he's done a great job,'' Donovan said. ``They were clearly the better team than we were today.'' Jones has said that much of his coaching style and recruiting prowess was a product of coaching under Donovan. Now, he's hoping to build UCF into a powerhouse program similar to the two-time champion Gators at Florida.

``We're trying to brand our program and I think since the day that our staff has arrived here they've bought in and worked hard,'' said Jones, who believed in UCF's promise enough to leave Marshall and his home state of West Virginia last March. ``Your hard work doesn't always pay off so quickly and get rewarded for it, but I told our guys how proud I was of them and their effort. You earn your respect by what you do on the court and how you compete and the biggest thing we were able to do was compete for 40 minutes.''

Wednesday's game was the first-ever collegiate game at the $480 million Amway Center in downtown Orlando. The facility, owned and managed by the City of Orlando, will likely be home to NCAA Tournament games and neutral site college showdowns in the future. A crowd of 13,909 - as many of them Knights fans as Gators backers - witnessed UCF's landmark victory.

The Knights could be poised now to enter the Top 25 national rankings for the first time in school history. UCF's football team did just that same thing a month ago, getting as high as No. 23 in the national polls. Now, the Knights seem destined to make some national noise of their own in basketball as well. UCF has only received votes twice in school history, and that almost certainly is about to change when the polls are released on Monday.

``This win is a real good feeling because none of us really got recruited by Florida,'' said Clanton, who had 12 points and nine rebounds, none bigger than the board off a Kenny Boynton miss with 32 seconds to play and the Knights up 53-52. ``We just wanted to come out and play strong and show that we could play with the top players. They're in the SEC, and everybody says that's the top conference, so we just wanted to show what we could do.''

UCF won despite shooting just 26.7 percent in the second half and making just one of nine 3-pointers after intermission. UCF entered the game second in the nation in field goal percentage (55.4), ninth in assists (18.8) and 11th in points (85.8), but on this night UCF had to win with defense.

The Knights allowed Florida to hit just two 3-pointers by continually running Florida's shooters off the line. Vernon Macklin made 10 of 11 shots and scored 20 points, but UCF's perimeter defense shut down Orlando native Chandler Parsons (one of nine, two points) and Alex Tyus (zero of five, no points).

UCF's resolve was severely tested midway through the second half when it missed 14 consecutive shots and didn't have a point for 7 minutes, 31 seconds. But Sosa, who had seven points and talked openly in the days leading up to Wednesday about dreaming of beating the Gators, drilled a tough runner in traffic to snap the skid.

From there, Jordan scored five points in a row for the Knights. His driving layup with 7:08 remaining was a thing of beauty. Jordan first shook Boynton off the dribble to get into the lane and went up for a right-handed layup. When Florida's Patric Young got a hand on the shot, Jordan switched the ball to his left and flipped in the layup.

``I was just trying to get it up and luckily it went in,'' Jordan said of the shot. ``I wanted to be aggressive because I saw a couple of holes where I could get into the paint. I just wanted to try and draw two defenders, create for others and our guys stepped up and made big shots.''

UCF was without senior power forward A.J. Tyler because of a hip pointer that could keep him out of action for two weeks. UCF did get 7-foot center Tom Herzog back, but the senior transfer played with a heavy bandage on his left wrist. Herzog, who had four points, four rebounds and two blocked shots, fouled out of the game with 1:57 to play and the Knights up 53-50.

UCF showed no signs of jitters early in the game, and dominated the first half for the most part and led 34-30 at the intermission. The Knights came into the game ranked second in the country in field goal percentage (55.2 percent) and proceeded to drill 52 percent in the first half. Making matters even better, UCF drilled four 3-pointers to quite any Florida runs early on.

Jordan was easily the best player on the floor in the first half, accounting for nine points and two rebounds. Jordan repeatedly broke down Florida's defense in one-on-one sets and created open shots for David Diakite (two first-half 3-pointers).

And when the win was complete, Jordan and Clanton celebrated with hugs and chest bumps and Jones was left to explain his mixed feelings of beating Donovan and taking a major step forward at UCF.

``It's a great victory, but I'm just trying to stay humble with it,'' Jones said. ``Obviously our program has got to get to the point where we expect to win. That's how we're supposed to work and you earn things like this through your work and your mentality. Our kids have to continue to come out and work and have confidence. Our kids played with confidence (Wednesday).''

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