John Denton's Knights Insider: Defense Leads to Another Win for 14-0 Knights


Jan. 5, 2011

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By John Denton

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The big myth, UCF head coach Donnie Jones said with a chuckle, is that this 14-0 streak for the Knights has been crafted all around Marcus Jordan's high-degree-of-difficulty baskets and an offense that came into Wednesday averaging 77.1 points a game.

But it is UCF's gritty, swarming defense that has truly made this shocking run into the nation's top 20 and the land of the unbeatens possible. UCF's ability to elevate the intensity of its defense in Wednesday's Conference USA opener was the biggest reason why the Knights are still a surging, undefeated force to be reckoned with.

Down four points with 7:35 to play, UCF put on a decisive defensive run that allowed it to pull off another gutsy come-from-behind victory. By forcing Marshall to miss eight consecutive shots and go more than six minutes without a field goal, No. 19/18 UCF was able to surge into the lead and escape with a 65-58 victory in the C-USA opener for both teams.

How good were the Knights defensively? They blocked a season-high 11 shots, held Marshall to 28 percent shooting in the second half and 33 percent for the game and gave up just two 3-pointers. And UCF's defense smothered Marshall leading scorers Damier Pitts (17.3 ppg.) and DeAndre Kane (15.2 ppg.), holding each to just five points.

Seeing his team play that kind of rugged defense and elevate the level of its play with the game on the line meant more to Jones than the predictable storylines revolving around him facing a Marshall team he had coached the previous three years for the first time.

``Our defense has been our staple all year long and that's the thing we've focused on. Everybody thinks we're an offensive team, but the thing we preach the most is defense,'' said Jones, whose UCF defense held Marshall (10-4, 0-1) to 17 points below its season average. ``Our kids really responded to that and it's why we had success.''

With the win, UCF improved to 14-0 overall and 1-0 in C-USA play. The Knights, one of just seven undefeated teams in the country going into the night, continued to re-write the record books with Wednesday's performance. The Knights are off to their best start since moving to the Division I level in 1984 and moved within one victory of the best start ever set back in the 1979-80 season. And the 14-game winning streak is the longest ever at the D-I level for the Knights.

``We're trying to not even think about the streak,'' said Jordan, who scored 18 of his game-high 26 points in the second half. ``We just want to go out and win the next game. Whenever the streak ends, it ends. But we're trying to keep that from happening.''

A boisterous crowd of 9,094 filled UCF Arena. It was the third-largest crowd in school history and four of the biggest crowds ever at UCF have come this season.

``We've had great fan support the whole year and when we made our run it was pretty loud in there and I think Marshall felt that and got tentative,'' said Jordan.

Jordan put the Knights ahead to stay with 6:44 to play when he drove the ball hard down the lane, drew contact and flipped the ball up and in. His free throw put UCF 47-46, a lead it would not relinquish the rest of the way. Jordan had two free throws and two more tough driving layups in traffic the rest of the way to ensure UCF's win.

``Every time I go to the paint I want to put the decision on the referee to either call a foul or a charge. That's what I'm looking to do,'' said Jordan, who got in the lane for eight of his nine baskets and he also made eight of 12 free throws. ``Luckily I'm able to get into the defender and hang in the air a little bit longer than anybody else.''

Jordan got help from fellow sophomore Keith Clanton, who delivered 14 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots in 35 minutes. Junior guard Isaac Sosa added 13 points and three 3-pointers, including a big one that gave the Knights a four-point lead down the stretch.

``I think what won us the game was the aggressiveness in the second half,'' Sosa said. ``We went to the free throw line 24 times in the second half compared to (four times) in the first half. That aggressiveness won the game for us.''

And the Knights were plenty aggressive on the defensive end of the floor. Reserve center Tom Herzog, a senior transfer from Michigan State, embodies UCF's defense-first mentality and he played another major role in Wednesday's game despite scoring just one point. He had nine rebounds and four blocked shots, erasing two Marshall tries just as UCF was starting it's game-turning 10-0 run late in the second half.

``We were able to get stops and our defense won the game for us tonight,'' Jones said. ``This is a team averaging 75 points a game and we held them to 58.''

Jones left Marshall last March to coach at UCF because he saw the enormous potential with the Knights as a basketball powerhouse. That prophecy has been fulfilled to the fullest so far with UCF exceeding just about all expectations, but that didn't stop Jones from feeling an emotional tug of facing his former team for the first time on Wednesday.

``I love those (Marshall) kids regardless of what people believe. I recruited those guys, I've got great respect for those guys and they're going to win a lot of basketball games,'' said Jones, whose Knights can equal last season's win total (15) with one more victory.

``There are always emotions when you coach against people you have worked for. It's like when I coach against (Florida head coach) Billy (Donovan). There's no sweet feeling even winning against kids you have coached and recruited.''

Now, the Knights must hit the road for their first C-USA road game of the season. On Saturday, UCF faces Houston, a new-look team. Jones knows full well that UCF's unblemished record and lofty spot in the rankings will make them a marked team in road games.

``Any time you go on the road and play it's very difficult,'' Jones said. ``Houston went to the NCAA tournament last year and they are a team with a new coach. We have to realize that we have that target on our backs when we go on the road. We're in different waters than this program has ever been in before because we're ranked. We just have to realize that people are going to play at a different level against us night-in and night-out.''

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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.