Men's Basketball Bounces Back, Top Seminoles 68-54

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ORLANDO – In the moments immediately following the UCF Knights' narrow double-overtime loss to UNC Asheville in their season-opener Monday evening, UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins made clear to his team that he expected better, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.
The Knights made it a point to deliver, and then some, ending the first half on a commanding seven-plus minute stretch that paved way for UCF's first victory of the new season, 68-54, over the visiting Florida State Seminoles at Addition Financial Arena on Friday night. The win marked the program's second straight over the Seminoles on the heels of defeats in the first 11 meetings between the two schools.
The contest also built upon a pair of positive trends for Dawkins' Knights, as UCF jumped to 50 games north of .500, at 72-22, on its home court and improved to 20-5 against in-state opponents during the last six-plus years under the head coach's watchful eye.
"It was a good victory. We had to earn it," Dawkins said. "I thought it was a hard-fought game. I was proud of our guys. We were able to continue to manufacture points and opportunities for ourselves when they were making their run, and we played with some poise down the stretch."
On the heels of a brief 8-2 Seminoles (0-2, 0-0 ACC) run that closed the Knights' (1-1, 0-0 AAC) lead to 27-26 with 7:33 remaining in the first half, UCF caught fire in the period's closing minutes.
The Knights' defense limited Florida State to just three more points, and the group rattled off 12 of their own on the offensive end to open their biggest lead of the first half. Five different Knights factored into the dominant stretch, with Jayhlon Young, who racked up a team-leading 17 points, making his second shot from beyond the arc, and UCF's fifth in 11 tries, to give UCF a 39-29 halftime advantage.
"I thought our guys just did a good job playing off each other in general," Dawkins continued. "We were out-rebounded in our last game. I thought both areas we cleaned up tonight; we had a good game defensively, holding them to 54 points, and we did a good job rebounding the basketball, winning the battle 52-22. We didn't emphasize anything offensively; we emphasized all defense coming into this game."
The Knights dug themselves out of an 8-4 hole with a 9-0 run early in the first 20 minutes, ignited by Young's two-point jumper and subsequent free throw following a Florida State foul. Young later added his first three-pointer of the night that gave UCF its first lead of the evening, 11-8, with just over 15 minutes left in the half, and Tyem Freeman capped off the run with two points of his own.
For every punch the Seminoles landed down the stretch, the Knights had an answer waiting until their stifling stretch to end the half. Ithiel Horton drilled the Knights' third three of the half immediately following one by Florida State, and Taylor Hendricks followed suit minutes later.
Hendricks, who enjoyed a memorable Knights debut Monday night with a team-leading 23 points as one of UCF's five freshmen, followed with an encore Friday evening in the form of the program's first double-double of the season, recording 15 points and 12 rebounds.
"It feels amazing," Hendricks said of earning his first win with the Knights. "Just like last game it is just one game; it doesn't make the season, but it still feels great to get the win."
UCF's defensive adjustments only grew stronger as the night wore on. The Knights held the Seminoles scoreless for 5:28 of game time following a Florida State field goal 33 seconds into the second half. After the Knights coughed up 36 in the first half to UNC Asheville Monday night, the Seminoles didn't reach the same mark until 13:17 remained in the game.
The Knights' excellence on the defensive end in turn allowed for their offense, firing on all cylinders, to take complete control of the affairs. C.J. Walker punctuated a second half-opening 12-5 run with UCF's sixth triple to give the Knights their largest lead of the evening at 51-34, an advantage from which UCF did not look back. UCF's second consecutive victory over Florida State drops the Seminoles to 0-2 on the season for the first time since its 2006-07 campaign.

Five Knights finished Monday night scoring double-digit points with two double overtimes included in the run of play. Friday night saw three double-digit scorers, with Young leading the way with 17 and Taylor Hendricks and Horton close behind with 15 and 14 respectively.
The Knights return home to finish their season-opening three-game home stand on Monday night. They host Western Illinois, who beat Rockford 113-56 their last time out, on Monday night for a 7 p.m. tip.

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