Feature: Knights Make Most of Magical Moment

By Daniel Forcella

ORLANDO ( –Anyone who watched five minutes of ESPN, or CBS – or any network talking about basketball on Saturday or Sunday morning – knew the story arcs going into Sunday evening’s Second Round NCAA Tournament matchup between UCF and Duke.


It was everywhere.


It was legendary Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski against his first big-time recruit and long-time assistant coach Johnny Dawkins.


It was potential number one overall pick in the NBA Draft Zion Williamson vs. 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall, who confidently stated two nights earlier that Williamson wouldn’t dunk on him. Fall was right about that one.


But it was more than that.


For UCF, Sunday evening was the biggest moment in the history of the basketball program. And that’s saying something, given that two days earlier the team won its first-ever game in the NCAA Tournament, defeating VCU to advance to the Second Round.


It was a chance to take down the number one team in the nation. For these Knights this was what they worked all year for. Honestly, it was what they worked the last three years for. Since Johnny Dawkins stepped foot on campus, the program was building towards this.


Dawkins and his staff of Robbie Laing, Vince Taylor and Kevin Norris had a remarkable game plan and their players executed it perfectly.


The Blue Devils are the top overall seed in the tournament and have three top 10 picks in next year’s NBA Draft, according to most draft boards. But they’re all freshmen.


UCF is a veteran group. Seniors BJ Taylor and Tacko Fall have been leaders for the Knights for seemingly forever. And Aubrey Dawkins, who is in just his first year on the court with UCF, is a fifth-year junior with NCAA Tournament experience from his time at Michigan.


Unsurprisingly to fans of the Black and Gold, Taylor, Fall and Dawkins led the way.


What may have been surprising to the millions watching at home, however, was that those three gave Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish all that they could handle.


The Knights led for nearly all the first 10 minutes of the game. And Duke wasn’t playing poorly. The Blue Devils made a late run to take the advantage at the break. But the veteran UCF squad didn’t waver.


In fact, the Knights came out even better to start the second half. They scored the first seven points out of the locker room, eventually regaining the lead at 57-54 on a three-pointer by Taylor. Nicknamed Big Shot Barry, he came up big again with another three to give UCF a 70-68 lead with just 3:56 to play.


The Knights had Duke.


After a layup by Williamson, a jumper by Dawkins and a dunk from Fall made it 74-70 with only 2:08 to play. UCF was in position, in position to take out the top team in the nation in front of a sold out crowd and millions upon millions watching at home.


But then again. It is Duke. The star-studded group made plays. Reddish knocked down a three, Williamson went through contact and finished in the lane. Barrett put back Williamson’s missed free throw and all of the sudden the Blue Devils were on top 77-76 with 11 seconds left.


Dawkins calls timeout, draws up the play, and the Knights, again, execute it perfectly. Taylor gets Tre Jones on his left hip, elevates and floats the ball up off the backboard, just as he had thousands of times before. A lot of times for UCF’s leading scorer, that ball goes in.


Not this time. Taylor’s shot caromed around the rim.


That wasn’t it though. In flew Dawkins, using seemingly every inch of his 44+ inch vertical. He had been dominant all night. “The best player on the court,” Krzyzewski said. He went over Williamson, got his hand on the ball, and tipped it in.


But it didn’t drop. The ball rolled off in what felt like was slow motion for the Knights, the buzzer sounded, and Duke escaped.


The Knights had made history. They earned the first at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament in program history. They didn’t stop there. They won UCF’s first game in the tournament. That was epic.


On Sunday, though, the Knights captivated America. Everyone was talking about the game. An instant classic.


For Taylor, Fall, Dawkins – both father and son – Terrell Allen, Collin Smith, Chad Brown, Dayon Griffin, Frank Bertz and the rest of the team that wasn’t the goal. The goal wasn’t to come close. It was to win. It was always to win. UCF knew they could do it. They proved it on Sunday. But in the end, it just didn’t roll their way.


For Knight Nation. For UCF. For Orlando. It was magical.


The Knights went toe-to-toe with the top team in the country and proved they belonged. A win on Sunday wouldn’t have been a fluke. It wouldn’t have been because Duke played poorly.


No, according to Krzyzewski, the Knights were at as high of a level as any team Duke played against this year. “They certainly were deserving of winning.”


The team was deserving of winning. The players and staff were deserving of all the attention, all the praise, and all the love from old fans and new.


It was a moment that Knight Nation – and likely America – will not forget any time soon.