UCF Dispatches Tulane on Another Late Rally

Box Score (pdf)

ORLANDO—Maybe, just maybe, the UCF men's basketball team is getting the hang of this comeback thing.
Four days after an overtime 20-point comeback victory at East Carolina (that may yet rank as the largest comeback in program history), the Knights did it again.
This time they fought their way back from a 13-point second-half deficit to regain the lead with just less than five minutes to go, then held off visiting Tulane for a satisfying and emotional 68-66 triumph Saturday afternoon at Addition Financial Arena.
Freshman Darius Johnson, making only his second collegiate start and first since November (after scoring 12, eight and 16 points in his last three games), paced the winners with a season-high 17 points to go with seven rebounds (another season best).
Center Cheikh Mbacke Diong added a season-high 16 points (eight of 11 on fields goals) and 10 rebounds, also a season best. Darin Green Jr. contributed 14 points despite connecting on only five of 15 shots. Brandon Mahan added 10.
Sophomore guard Jaylen Forbes led Tulane with 17, while Jalen Cook, a freshman transfer from LSU, had 16.
Coming out of a three-point UCF lead at half, the Green Wave caught fire. Tulane hit 11 of its first 13 shots to begin the second period and built a 55-42 lead at 10:01—with Forbes notching 11 of Tulane's first 23 points after intermission (he was only two for nine shooting in the opening 20 minutes). But the visitors did not score again for more than five minutes.
UCF bounced back with a 14-0 run--as Tulane missed five straight shots over one stretch and a pair of Green threes pulled the Knights within range. Mbacke Diong's dunk at the 4:49 mark put UCF back in front at 56-55.
"I think they (UCF) just had the belief and confidence that they could do it," said UCF coach Johnny Dawkins. "I give our guys credit for hanging in there and staying positive. We made a run late and could finish it out."
Tulane came back to take a four-point lead—but Mahan's three at 1:33 tied the game at 63 and Mbacke Diong's rebound dunk put the Knights ahead for good at the 49-second mark.
"Mbacke just kept making play after play," added Dawkins.
UCF prevailed despite the Green Wave's 53.3% second-half shooting (16 of 30, though they missed 12 of their final 17 tries)
"For us it's just stay the course," said UCF senior guard Darius Perry.
The game was tied six times and the lead changed hands on eight occasions.
Tulane had won two of its last three games overall and two of three AAC road games (wins at Cincinnati and Wichita State).
Tulane grabbed its only lead of the first half at 15-14, then a Mahan three handed it back to the Knights. From there UCF built an eight-point advantage at 28-20 after a C.J. Walker three.
Neither team shot the ball particularly well in the opening half—with the home team at .355 (11 of 31 overall, seven of 17 on threes) and Tulane at .345 (21-60 and 2-14).
UCF (12-5 overall, 4-3 AAC) heads to Wichita Wednesday to play Wichita State (8 p.m. EST on ESPN+). The Knights, now 8-2 at home, play host to 10th-ranked Houston and AAC leader Houston next Saturday night (8 p.m. EST on ESPN2).
Tulane (7-9, 4-3) returns home for consecutive home dates against Tulsa and Wichita State.