John Denton's Knights Insider: UCF Finds a Way to Win


Feb. 12, 2011

Final Stats

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By John Denton

Box Score in PDF Format

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The corner 3-point attempt from Tulsa's Scottie Haralson seemed to hang in the air Saturday night for an eternity - or about as long as it's been since UCF's men's basketball team last won a game.

But after being crushed by a back-breaking Memphis 3-pointer three days earlier, this time the opposition's 3-pointer missed and UCF finally had the victory that had eluded them for the past 38 days.

``It's been a long time. It did (feel like forever on the final shot attempt) and it's nice for it to finally miss for a change,'' relieved UCF coach Donnie Jones said after the Knights' 58-57 defeat of Tulsa. ``I'm just happy for our kids and happy for the program to find a way to get a victory.

``As I told those guys at the beginning of the game, I'm proud of how we've continued to work,'' Jones continued. ``Our kids have not tucked their heads. Everybody usually tucks their head when it doesn't go well, but our kids have been resilient and enthusiastic and continued to work. I'm just happy for them to get that victory because there's been a lot of pressure on them with the start that we had.''

Despite his UCF team following up 14-straight wins to start the season with an eight-game losing streak, Jones insisted the past two weeks that his team was improving and continuing to work in practice. That was evident most recently in Wednesday's crushing 63-62 loss to Memphis. This time, UCF (15-8 overall and 2-8 in Conference USA play) hung tough throughout and made enough plays down the stretch to win for the first time since a Jan. 5 beating of Marshall.

``It feels like an eternity,'' said sophomore forward Keith Clanton, who had 16 points and three free throws in the final two minutes to seal the victory. ``We were talking about it the other day and we hadn't won since Jan. 5, I think. It's just a big-time win for us and now we need to keep on winning from here on out.''

UCF won by getting 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds from sophomore point guard Marcus Jordan. P.J. Gaynor, a converted small forward, scored six points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. Senior center Tom Herzog scored seven points, blocked four shots and contested Tulsa's final 3-point try from the corner. The defensive work helped the Knights hold Tulsa (13-11, 6-4) to 35.7 percent shooting.

``I had flashbacks in my head and I was like, `Oh no, please don't go in,''' Jordan said of Tulsa's final shot to win the game. ``I don't think we were thinking of (the losing skid) as a burden. We were just like, `Man, when are we going to get one? When are we going to get one?' We were attacking every day, not looking in the past and not thinking about the streak, but just thinking about how we were going to get better and get a win.''

Down as much as five points in the first half and four at the intermission, UCF showed no signs of quit and played as if it fully expected to beat a Tulsa team that had won three straight, including wins in Memphis and against UTEP.

The Knights took a 47-34 lead on a Gaynor 3-pointer with 15 minutes to play and never relented even as Tulsa made several hard charges down the stretch. Clanton bounced back from a poor game against Memphis with several strong finishes around the rim. That took some of the pressure off of Jordan and gave the Knights a second offensive option in the tense moments of the game.

``One thing we've worked on in practice is ... a lot of situational stuff to try to get confidence of what we do, to execute and to get stops and how to win with defense,'' Jones said. ``In the Memphis game, we had 19 non-finishes in the paint where we didn't get a foul or a score. (On Saturday) Keith Clanton wasn't shooting fade-away jump shots and was going to the rim. He got some hard fouls and he was aggressive. Same with Marcus. He started driving at the end and wasn't settling for jump shots; he was only settling for drives.''

At the conclusion of the game, UCF's players circled the floor, slapping hands with many of the 7,008 fans in attendance at UCF Arena. Off the floor, Jones and his staff celebrated with hugs and high fives. And when UCF's players did finally get to the locker room, the celebration elevated with players getting especially ``geeked up,'' Clanton said.

``As a coach easy to sit back and look and say, `How did we lose eight in a row?' But you can't do that. You have to stay in the moment and control what you can,'' Jones said. ``We just have to try to keep getting better. A lot of times people remember how you start and they'll remember how you finish and they don't always remember what happens in the middle. As long as our team continues to improve - we've been through some tough bouts handling prosperity and handling adversity - building on this will be important.''

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