John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Rally Falls Short vs. Rice


Jan. 22, 2011

Final Stats

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By John Denton

Box Score in PDF Format

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - This was the kind of frustrating loss that will undoubtedly take UCF some time to shake off.

The Knights missed a chance to tie the game when Marcus Jordan missed a free throw with 27.9 seconds to play and they were then hit with a bizarre technical foul that sent them spiraling toward a loss.

Once down as many as 12 points in the second half, UCF made a spirited comeback, but saw it ruined by a bad break in the final 30 seconds that allowed Rice to escape with a 57-50 victory at UCF Arena.

With UCF trailing 51-50, referees ruled that UCF junior guard A.J. Rompza made contact with the ball as Rice's Tamir Jackson was taking it out of bounds. The violation resulted in a technical foul which gave the Owls (9-10 overall, 1-4 in Conference USA) two free throws. Two more free throws completed the four-point play and sent the third-largest home crowd in school history (9,347) home unhappy.

``(Jackson) had the basketball out of bounds and you can't touch the ball when he has the ball,'' UCF coach Donnie Jones said. ``A.J. Rompza, I guess, reached over and touched the ball, which he knows that he can't do. That was a tough break for us at a crucial time.''

UCF (14-4, 1-4) lost its fourth-consecutive game primarily because it shot just 30.4 percent and made only two of 15 shots from 3-point range. And the Knights, who went 12 minutes, 15 seconds without field goal at one point, struggled even worse in the second half when they made 28.6 percent of their shots and missed all eight 3-point tries.

Sophomore forward Keith Clanton scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half and added eight rebounds and four blocked shots. Jordan, UCF's leading scorer at 16.2 points per game, didn't have a field goal, but scored 10 points all on free throws.

``Our guys have to find a way to overcome adversity, and we haven't. Our team is playing very tight. As coaches, we've tried to encourage them and loosen them up, but there comes a time when you have to step up,'' Jones said. ``We shoot 30 percent from the field and I can't say that we didn't have good shots. We shoot 13 (percent) from the 3-point line and we miss crucial free throws down the stretch. It makes it difficult because we played well enough defensively to win the game. We hold them to 34 percent, and we had a chance to win the game, but for some reason we're not able to score.''

UCF went the final 2:08 of the first half and the first 10:07 of the second half without a field goal and fell behind 40-28 at one point in the second half. But then the Knights started a spirited rally behind the slashing abilities of Jordan and the one-one-work of Clanton in the low post.

A 15-3 run - 13 of which were scored by Clanton layups or Jordan free throws - got the Knights tied at 43 with 5:26 to play. UCF seemed in position to tie the game again with 27.9 seconds remaining, but Jordan came up short on his first free throw. And after he hit the second one, Rompza was whistled for the technical foul that stunned the near capacity crowd.

From there, UCF missed its final three shots and Rice salted the game away at the free throw line. Arsalan Kazemi led Rice with 11 points and 14 rebounds, while Connor Frizzelle had 15 points.

Clearly, it's offensive woes that have put a major damper on the Knights' season. UCF averaged 77 points in its 13 nonconference games, but have averaged just 63.4 points in the five league games since then.

``I think that they're pressing hard with the way that we are offensively. As coaches we give them freedom to play and it's no different from what we've done when we won 14 (games), but the guys' confidence right now is rattled,'' Jones said. ``We practice well, and if we could just transfer what we do in practice to games, we'd be fine. But when the lights get kicked on our guys aren't competing. They're playing hard, but they're not executing and making shots.''

Two issues, Jones said, is finding a way to jump-start the offense of Clanton earlier in games, and helping Jordan get back on track offensively. The mild-mannered Clanton made five of his six shots in the second half on Saturday. Jordan, who often scored at will early in the season, missed all six of his field goal attempts on Saturday.

``We need Keith to start the game off like that instead of just playing like that at the end,'' Jones said. ``I was proud of the way that he came back. I was on him very hard at the beginning of the game because we need him. He needs to take that next step for our team and he responded.

Next up for the Knights is a showdown against C-USA power Memphis on Wednesday at 8 p.m. The game will be televised by CBS College Sports. Memphis (15-4, 4-1) beat UAB 76-73 in overtime on Saturday. Jones vowed that the Knights will evaluate their offensive schemes between now and then and that changes will likely come by Wednesday.

``We'll make some changes because it's time for some things to change in this lineup and on this team,'' he vowed. ``You'll see that on Wednesday.''

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