John Denton's Knights Insider: Home Winning Streak Comes to End


Jan. 28, 2012

Final Stats

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By John Denton

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - A promising early stretch of defensive dominance gave way to stretches of offensive frustration in the second half, resulting in a UCF loss to Conference USA powerhouse Southern Miss on Saturday night.

UCF jumped to a 12-point lead with some stellar defensive work in the first half, but was hurt by a poor stretch before the half and struggled to keep pace with a balanced Southern Miss team in a frustrating 78-65 defeat at a noisy UCF Arena.

Playing before a crowd of 7,790 fans, UCF (15-6 overall and 5-3 in C-USA play) saw its 16-game home winning streak - the nation's 10th longest such streak - come to an end. The Knights hadn't lost on campus since last February and had been 11-0 at home this season.

``This just means that we have to get in the gym and work harder so that we can get back to winning,'' said sophomore forward Isaiah Sykes, who had seven points, seven rebounds and five assists. ``We have to do what it takes to win. We can't focus on the big things, but instead have to focus on the little things that make us winners.''

UCF shot just 40 percent in the game and 39.4 percent in the second half. A poor stretch just before the half and another to start the second half did in a UCF team that lost its second consecutive game.

``Four minutes to go (in the first half) and we're up 12 and you have to be able to hold those leads,'' UCF head coach Donnie Jones said. ``But they are explosive and have a lot of guys who can score. The zone defense worked early on and we were in a pretty good rhythm. But we didn't respond in the second half and Southern Miss did. There's a reason they are in first place.''

Junior forward Keith Clanton scored 21 points before fouling out with 53 seconds to play. However, fellow junior Marcus Jordan struggled and finished with 11 points on four of 11 shooting. Indicative of the tough night, Jordan, who came into the game averaging 18.8 points per game this season in home game, missed two uncontested layups in the final minute and could only shake his head in frustration.

Southern Miss, which already owns wins against Ole Miss, Arizona State and USF this season, improved to 19-3 overall and remained atop C-USA at 6-1. They will host UCF in Hattiesburg, Miss., on Feb. 11.

``They came out more aggressive and took their game to another level in the second half,'' Sykes added. ``Down the stretch we didn't make plays and we didn't come as we usually do. So we've got to regroup and refocus now.''

The Knights return to action Monday night at UCF Arena against Palm Beach Atlantic in a non-league game. They play at SMU on Saturday.

The momentum that Southern Miss captured just before the half - they scored the final 11 points before intermission - carried over to the early minutes of the second half. The Eagles began picking apart UCF's zone defense and surged ahead 55-44 on the strength of three 3-pointers and three alley-oop dunks.

``It turned the game around and they got a lot of momentum off that,'' Clanton said of Southern Miss' run before the half. ``But we still had the lead going into halftime and needed to keep our composure and play harder.''

UCF led 31-30 at the half, but it was Southern Miss that took the momentum into intermission after Darnell Dodson drilled a 3-pointer as the horn sounded. Neil Watson scored 23 points off the bench, while Dodson had 22 points in a reserve role.

Jones changed the tempo of the game in the early minutes of the first half, by switching from a man-to-man to zone defense. UCF also used a big lineup of Clanton, Josh Crittle, Tristan Spurlock, Isaiah Sykes and Jordan in the first half to smother Southern Miss' offense.

UCF held Southern Miss without a point for more 7 minutes during one stretch and ripped off a 14-0 run to grab an early 18-11 lead.

``We were fine with the zone, but then we started getting beat off the dribble. They started dribble penetrating and then kicking it out,'' Jones said. ``We knew that they were very quick and very explosive - one of the quickest teams that we've played next to Memphis. They are just very good in a lot of spots.''

Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy went ballistic in the first half over a non-call that resulted in a 3-pointer by Spurlock. Crittle hit two free throws for a five-point possession for UCF, but the technical foul on Eustachy seemed to fire up Southern Miss. Down as much as 31-19, the Eagles ended the first half with 11 straight points to get within 31-30 by halftime.

Jones said he was happy that the Knights have another game on Monday so that they can work on some of the issues that plagued them on Saturday night. With defenses sagging to stop his drives, Jordan was forced to kick the ball out. But A.J. Rompza (3 of 11) and Spurlock (1 of 8) struggled to make shots.

``I didn't say a lot to the guys tonight because I know that they are hurting,'' Jones said. ``We'll watch film and learn from it. Then, we'll have a chance to get back on Monday and then a couple of days to get ready before we're off to SMU.''

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