John Denton's Knights Insider: Postseason Experience Positive for UCF

March 21, 2011

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Donnie Jones knows there will come a time next season when he'll point back to something from Wednesday's win against St. Bonaventure - the way UCF defended in the 2-3 zone or the way the Knights attacked offensively with their drive-and-kick game - and realize the direct benefits of playing in the postseason.

In addition to nabbing a 69-54 victory in the College Basketball Invitational - UCF's first postseason tournament victory at the Division I level - the Knights got some much-needed experience that should pay dividends in the future for the blossoming program. Tied at 44-all with 12:16 to play, UCF showed the steely resolve of a tournament team by delivering with a game-turning 12-1 spurt that sealed the victory.

``Absolutely, there are a lot of things from (the St. Bonaventure win) that we can look back at that will help us in the future,'' Jones said. ``From the way we rebounded to making the extra pass to pressing all night and wearing people down we did a lot of good things. We got stronger as the game went on. It was a great job by our basketball team because it's easy during this time for guys to not come in focused and they just want the season to end. That's clearly not the case with our guys, they played with great heart and we can learn from it.''

UCF's 20th victory of the season told Jones that there's still plenty of fight in his team and a desire to not yet let go of a season filled with so many positive moments. Up next for the Knights (20-11) is Monday night's 7 p.m. game at UCF Arena against Rhode Island, a second-consecutive Atlantic 10 member.

The Knights are hoping to use this postseason experience to help speed up the maturity process of the team and use it as a springboard into the NCAA Tournament this time next spring. Six of the 16 teams in the CBI last season made it to the NCAA Tournament this year, a far greater percentage than teams that made the jump from the NIT to the NCAAs this spring.

For UCF, the experience of playing in the postseason has been good for the veteran and young players alike. UCF senior guard Taylor Young is a part of the postseason for the first time in his career, while Tom Herzog is playing significant minutes for the first time despite being a part of two Final Four runs at Michigan State. For Herzog the season has been everything that he had hoped for and more. The 7-foot center made all five of his shots last Wednesday, scored 10 points and keyed UCF's game-turning run with several big plays on both ends of the floor.

And then there's the other end of the spectrum with freshman forward Isaiah Sykes, who scored nine points against St. Bonventure. Jones told him before the game that he was now a ``sophomore'' because he had played in so many games as a freshman. He responded with two thunderous dunks and helped UCF hold a 37-10 advantage in bench scoring.

Sykes said that playing in the postseason has prepared him for what's to come next season at UCF. He realized the elevated level of intensity at the C-USA tournament in El Paso, Texas, two weeks ago and brought a much sharper focus to last Wednesday's game. He knows that the experience will only help him in the future.

``I know a lot more now. You have to come in and listen and be prepared to learn,'' Sykes said. ``You need to keep learning. I'm getting more comfortable and feeling better during certain situations during games. It is a good experience. You need to be better prepared and ready to play.''

Regardless of how far the Knights advance in the CBI tourney, Jones is delighted that his team has gotten this chance to feel the fire of a postseason. And it's reward for a season in which the Knights knocked off Florida, Miami, South Florida and UMass out of conference and beat the likes of UTEP, Southern Miss and Marshall in C-USA play.

And playing - and especially winning - in the postseason will put the Knights in a position to possibly make the leap to the NCAA Tournament next March.

``This team has been through a lot and that's why it's been so good to play in this because it's given our team confidence again, energy again and learning to deal with adversity again,'' Jones said. ``We've won six of our last nine games now closing out the season. And like I told the guys, it's how you finish that people remember the most.''

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