A Look Back at UCF's Successful Trip to Canada

Aug. 14, 2011

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By Doug Richards

MONTREAL, Quebec (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF's trip to Canada was a success. The Knights headed north in order to get a head start for the 2011-12 campaign, and Donnie Jones' team picked up three impressive wins along the way and will head back to Orlando Sunday with confidence entering the upcoming season.

UCF in Canada Photo Gallery

The Knights, who stayed in Montreal, defeated a pair of Canadian college squads and also topped a team made up of professional players. The most impressive win of the trip came on Thursday when UCF traveled to Ottawa and registered a hard-fought 93-84 win over Carleton, which has won seven of the last nine Canadian national championships. The Ravens, who claimed the 2010-11 national title, defeated Illinois State the evening before they played the Knights.

The trip to Canada gave Jones the opportunity to see how returnees like Keith Clanton, Marcus Jordan and Isaiah Sykes have improved, and also allowed the head coach, who is entering his second campaign in Orlando, to experiment with different lineups and utilize newcomers like Josh Crittle, Rod Days and Kasey Wilson.

Here is a review of UCF's time in Canada:

Top Team Performance
First Half at McGill
The Knights took advantage of their length and athleticism to jump ahead and dominate the Redmen from the opening tipoff. UCF forced 14 first-half turnovers and scored 18 points off of those turnovers to race out to a 52-22 advantage at the break. UCF's press smothered McGill, and Rod Days totaled three steals and 10 points and Isaiah Sykes recorded two steals in nine points in the opening 20 minutes.

Top Individual Performances
P.J. Gaynor at Carleton
P.J. Gaynor came out firing at Carleton. He made all six of his field goal attempts in the first half, including three 3-pointers, and finished with 23 points in 26 minutes. Gaynor shot 10-of-11 from the field and made 3-of-4 triples as the Knights picked up a gritty win over the Ravens.

Keith Clanton at Carleton
Unlike P.J. Gaynor who did most of his scoring in the opening stanza, Keith Clanton dominated down the stretch at Carleton. He scored 15 points after intermission when he made 9-of-11 free throws. It seemed like the power forward was fouled in the paint nearly every possession in the second half. Clanton finished with 25 points and nine rebounds and shot 13-of-15 at the line.

Isaiah Sykes at McGill
In UCF's final game in Canada, Isaiah Sykes had a complete performance. He totaled 14 points and at 6-foot-5, led all players with 10 rebounds. The sophomore also added three steals and a pair of assists as the Knights handled the Redmen.

Marcus Jordan at Champlain College-Saint Lambert All-Stars
The Knights did not have the best shooting performance in their opening game in Canada, but that was expected as the team traveled from Orlando to Montreal on gameday. Marcus Jordan was one Knight who was accurate with his shot against the Champlain College-Saint Lambert All-Stars. The shooting guard shot 9-of-13 from the field and made 5-of-8 from deep, including a triple that he banked in, on his way to 24 points.

Top Individual Play
The trip to Canada was filled with breakaway dunks for Isaiah Sykes. The sophomore had some slams at McGill, but he also had the play of the trip on the open floor. Sykes grabbed a steal in the third quarter, nearly caused a defender to fall with a behind the back dribble and then found a cutting P.J. Gaynor with a behind-the-back pass that resulted in a dunk for Gaynor. The play drew praise from the fans in attendance, and hoots and hollers from the UCF bench.

Top Positive Signs for UCF Fans
Effective with the Pressure
The Knights' full-court press was extremely successful in Canada. A year ago, UCF pressed at the start of the season, but struggled to play at an up-tempo pace once Conference USA play began. With a bevy of long and athletic players, that should not be a problem in 2011-12. The press caused havoc for all three of UCF's opponents, especially at the start of games. Even when the Knights did not get a steal, they had deflections and most importantly, took their opponents out of their offensive rhythm.

A Team Effort
Last season, Marcus Jordan and Keith Clanton handled most the scoring duties for the Knights. Expect the juniors to continue to put points on the board, but the duo will have some help this season. Clanton still averaged a team-high 20.7 points in Canada and Jordan chipped in with 13.0 points per game. The pair received help from P.J. Gaynor (14.3 points) and Isaiah Sykes (12.0). And keep in mind that Tristan Spurlock only logged 18 minutes the entire trip before suffering an ankle injury that kept him out of the final two games, and Dwight McCombs showed that he can score inside as well.

The Sophomore Factor
During its three games at the postseason College Basketball Invitational last year, Isaiah Sykes was UCF's best all-around player. At the end of his freshman year, Sykes was strong defensively, rebounded the ball well for his size and scored in traffic. Sykes continued to shine defensively and averaged 4.7 boards in Canada, but also showed that his offensive skills have grown. He spent time at point guard where he found open teammates as he averaged 3.0 assists. The Detroit native got the basket where he scored above the rim. And Sykes even scored outside the paint, and helped his confidence by draining by a 3-pointer at McGill.

Top Off the Court Moment
Donnie Jones stated repeatedly before leaving Orlando that the trip would help the Knights grow as a team on and off the court, and he was certainly right. The team spent plenty of time together, mostly away from cell phones and IPods. The Knights had a few opportunities to tour Montreal, and seemed to enjoy exploring the historic city. The top off the court moment might have come on a beautiful day in Ottawa when the Knights visited the Canadian Parliament before facing Carleton. The Knights were in awe of the detailed architecture, and appreciated the openness and access to Canada's capital city.

Game Recaps
UCF 88, Champlain College-Saint Lambert All-Stars 66
UCF 93, Carleton 84
UCF 100, McGill 58