UCF Can’t Quite Finish Versus Sooners

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ORLANDO — UCF's intense marquee homecourt matchup with a 5-1 Oklahoma men's basketball team didn't end quite the way the Knights wanted Saturday afternoon at Addition Financial Arena.
But if the combination of defense and clutch shot-making are hints of entertaining things to come, then UCF fans are in for some fun.
The Sooners eventually are headed for the Southeastern Conference, while the previously unbeaten Knights (4-1) remain members of the American Athletic Conference for the time being—but this de-facto Big 12 preview left the crowd of 4,198 fans excited for the future.
Oklahoma's 65-62 victory came mainly because the Sooners—after a very slow start (missing 12 of their first 18)--made themselves at home shooting on the Knights' home court. Including made baskets on their final five shots of the opening half, Porter Moser's club connected on 18 of 26 (.692) shots to finish the afternoon.
UCF hung tough, hitting at a 56 percent clip of its own after intermission. The Knights knocked down seven of 11 three-pointers (three by Darin Green Jr., two by Darius Perry) in that second 20 minutes.
After Oklahoma built a nine-point lead at 63-54 (with 3:11 remaining), the Knights got back in it on two threes by Green, with a Perry bucket sandwiched in between. All that cut the Sooner advantage to 63-62 with 48 seconds left.
Elijah Harkless' bucket from the circle at the :20.9 mark proved the game-winner. The visitors defended the line well at the end, as Tony Johnson Jr. couldn't connect on a late attempt from the lane.
"We needed to get stops at the end, we came down and got some big baskets," said UCF coach Johnny Dawkins. "Harkless hit a tough two for them. Our guys actually defended that well--he didn't get a layup or an open three.
"We wanted to get a quick two at the end, but they did a good job of rotating out and defending. They closed out well and didn't give DG (Darin Green) his shot."
Said Tony Johnson about the last play: "We had a lot of options with Brandon (Mahan) and Darin, but everything broke down.
"It was time to battle back," said Darius Johnson of the late UCF surge.
"I love our team—they are very competitive," said Dawkins. "I would have been disappointed if we did not show fight. What they did at the end shows what they are and we have to learn from it." 
Noted Dawkins, "They imposed their will on us in terms of style of play."
The Sooners had 34 points in the paint (to 14 for UCF).
Added Tony Johnson, "We can capitalize on some mistakes today with some big matchups ahead. We just have to do what we do to the best of our abilities."
Green led the Knights with 17 points; Perry finished with 16 points to go with eight assists.
Umoja Gibson had 13 for the Sooners. Ethan Chargois added a dozen off the bench, while Jordan Goldwire had 11 points and seven assists.
UCF's Cheikh Mbacke Diong led both teams with seven rebounds—three more than anyone else.
The Sooners committed 19 turnovers to 18 by the Knights.
Added Darius Johnson: "It's just frustrating right now because there are a lot of things we could have done better."
Gritty defense and a handful of runs reigned supreme early.
"For us, we had to adjust to the game, a more physical game," said Dawkins. "It took us 20 minutes to embrace how the game was played."
A 9-0 UCF run gave the Knights their largest lead at the 12:49 stoppage. Then Oklahoma went on its own 10-0 run to a 15-9 advantage (largest for either team in the opening 20 minutes) as the home team missed 12 of its first 15 shots from the floor.
UCF held the Sooners' leading scorer, senior center Tanner Groves (15.5), scoreless in the opening half (on a single shot)—but Oklahoma connected on its final five shots of the period for its four-point halftime edge (28-24). Chargois had nine to pace the Sooners—Mahan had seven for the Knights.
UCF returns to action Wednesday at Auburn (8 p.m. EST on SECN+). The Knights' next home game is Dec. 5 versus Bethune-Cookman (2 p.m. EST on ESPN+).