John Denton's Knights Insider: Knights Fall to Memphis on Last-Second Shot


Feb. 9, 2011

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By John Denton

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - For a UCF men's basketball team that enjoyed more than its share of luck the first two months of the season, it seems now like nothing will go right for the Knights.

Up by two points in the final seconds and poised to beat Conference USA powerhouse Memphis for the first time in school history, UCF could only look on in agony as Antonio Barton squared himself up for a 3-pointer.

As has been the case so often of late, Barton's back-breaking 3-pointer went in with 2.6 seconds to play and UCF was forced to stomach a heartbreaking 63-62 loss before 7,076 fans at UCF Arena.

The shot was a crushing dagger for UCF (14-8, 1-8 C-USA), which led for all but the final three seconds of the final 16 minutes of the game. The Knights have lost eight games in a row since starting the season 14-0, but none of them as frustrating as this one.

UCF stayed in the zone defense that had worked so effectively throughout the second half, but Memphis found the holes at the end. Memphis star guard Will Barton looked as if he was about to drive, but instead whipped a pass between his legs to his brother, Antonio, for a shot from the corner that hit nothing but net.

UCF tried to push the ball back up the court, but Jordan's heave from just inside the half-court stripe came up well short. And once again, UCF was forced to deal with a crushing loss.

``We felt we needed to stay zone because we were worried about their ability to drive the basketball and create. You live and die with the long shot,'' UCF coach Donnie Jones said. ``It was a scramble play. It seemed to me that (Will) Barton was ready to put the ball down, but when he got ready to drive it he saw (Antonio Barton) and just flipped it to the corner. It was a good read by him. A tough, deep corner 3-point shot that's one you want him to take and obviously he made it.''

The go-ahead shot by Memphis (18-6 overall and 6-3 in C-USA play) silenced the crowd and had to stun the nationally televised audience provided by CBS College Sports Network.

UCF junior guard Isaac Sosa carried the Knights with 14 points and four 3-pointers on a night when Jordan struggled shooting against Memphis' length inside. Jordan had 12 points and five assists, but he made just three of 13 attempts.

``It's one of the toughest (losses) since we were on a losing streak,'' Sosa said. ``We were hoping with the way we were playing that we were going to win, but they hung in there. All the credit goes to them because they did some good plays. Their press forced some turnovers and it worked for them.''

UCF used two 3-pointers from Sosa and two more from forwards A.J. Tyler and P.J. Gaynor to build its biggest lead (47-40) of the night with 12:36 to play. But Jones feels one of the biggest turning points in the game was when Memphis went to its full-court press and immediately forced three UCF turnovers.

Turnovers were the difference two weeks ago when the Tigers beat UCF 77-61 in Memphis. This time, they merely put the Tigers in position to steal a victory away from UCF.

``That was a great game and Central Florida is a good team and they are very well coached,'' Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. ``Luckily, we hit a shot to win the game. We set up a play versus their zone. We wanted to either get the ball inside to Tarik (Black) or shoot the three to win the game. ... It looks like the play worked because he hit the shot.''

Jones said as tough as the loss was to deal with, there were several positives to take out of Wednesday's night's performance. Recent narrow losses to UAB and East Carolina have featured building block moments for the Knights, but they haven't been able to find the same success they had early in the season when they compiled their 14-game winning streak.

``I know we didn't win, but this team has continued to fight and we are getting better. Losing is not what we want to do, but this group has continued to work,'' Jones said. ``You've just got to change (the bad luck). It seems to magnify triple and double when that happens, but you don't want your kids to believe that's the way it is. You have to change it. They're fighting to do that and it's not about effort. We've been in games. If we were getting blown out by 20 or 25 I'd be concerned. We just have to find a way to stop it. We're close to doing that and shifting it the other way. We'll regroup and get ready for Tulsa.''

UCF closed the first half with a 7-0 spurt to pull within 32-30 by the intermission. The Knights trailed by eight points and later nine points at various points in the first half, but hung tough each time when things looked bleak. Unlike in the first meeting in Memphis, UCF limited its turnovers and scored when the Tigers trapped defensively in the halfcourt.

Junior point guard A.J. Rompza, who had missed the previous two weeks with a stress reaction in his left foot, gave the Knights a boost off the bench. He had four points and two assists in nine minutes of action.

Keith Clanton came to the rescue of a UCF team that shot just 39.4 percent in the first half. He scored the final five points of the first half. His seven first-half points were much-needed what with Jordan making just one of six shots in the first 20 minutes. Jordan stayed engaged and kept his team afloat all night with his playmaking skills.

``We played hard and shots fell for some guys. I couldn't make a (darn) shot,'' he said. ``We just have to keep getting better and grinding it out. It was just one of those nights where the ball wouldn't go in. I tried to not take myself out of it and I tried to create for my teammates and keep them involved.''

Jones said it's up to his team - and no one else - to rebound from this loss and come back with a strong effort come Saturday night at home against Tulsa. Jones has been proud of this team's resiliency and feels it's just a matter of time until the Knights get over the hump.

``I feel for our team, but no one else is going to feel for us,'' Jones said. ``They've been focused and working hard so we just have to continue and make our breaks and (Wednesday) night we weren't able to do that.''

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