Men's Hoops Edged by Hurricanes 66-64

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ORLANDO – The UCF men's basketball team's early-season defensive excellence carried over into its Sunday evening tilt with the visiting University of Miami, but an inability to capitalize on the offensive end eventually did the Knights in.
UCF (5-2, 0-0 AAC) on multiple occasions came close to erasing a 13-point, second-half Hurricanes (6-1, 0-0 ACC) lead, but a missed free throw and a replay review on a ball that sailed out of bounds in the game's final two seconds went against the Knights in their 66-64 loss at Addition Financial Arena.
"It was a really good game. I give Miami a lot of credit, I thought they made a lot of tough plays, especially on the boards," head coach Johnny Dawkins said. "I think defensively, we have to continue to work to get better."
Despite the Knights defense holding its opposition to fewer than 60 points in a program-record-tying five consecutive games entering Sunday's contest and finishing seven points away from a sixth straight, Miami's 48.1 field goal rate was the second-highest allowed by UCF this season, second only to its double-overtime loss in its season-opener.
"They shot 48 percent from the field against us," Dawkins continued. "That's something that we haven't been giving up, so we have to get back to the drawing board, find out what we did wrong in those situations, and continue to improve."
In spite of it all, UCF still took Miami down to the game's final seconds. Trailing 47-34 with 13:50 remaining in the second half, Darius Johnson, playing in just his second game of the season, put the team on his back.
The sophomore guard scored 15 straight points for the Knights in single-handedly authoring a 15-9 UCF run. Johnson, who posted a career-high 24 points on 60% (9-of-15) shooting, added seven more down the stretch including a final free throw that closed the Knights' deficit to 65-64 with 11 seconds left.
Johnson scored 22 of his 24 points in the second half, including both of his made tries from beyond the arc in his five total attempts. The last player to post more than 20 points in a half against Miami was Coby White of then-No. 8 ranked North Carolina, who posted 23 on his home floor back on Feb. 9, 2019.
"It's good to get him back," Dakwins said of Johnson. "He's a dynamic guard, he can move the ball to wherever he wants to on the floor, he can pass, he can score. It's good to have him back into the rotations."
Trailing 66-64 with eight seconds left, a rebound by C.J. Walker on a missed Hurricanes free throw injected new life into a raucous UCF crowd. Walker quickly drew a foul but missed his first free throw, and in the moments after intentionally missing the second with just 1.4 seconds left, the ball was swatted out of bounds without time for one last play before it hit the ground, as ruled by the officiating crew.
"Definitely a tough way to end the game," Dawkins continued. "We were hoping to get one more look at it, see what we could run based on how much time was left on the clock, but they had timed it out three times. Every time they timed it out, it was above the 1.4 [seconds]. It was such a good game, hate to see it end on that type of note."
The largest lead by either team was just six points throughout a defensive struggle of a first half, one that saw UCF enter the locker room trailing 32-26. Ithiel Horton, who co-led the Knights with seven points through the first 20 minutes alongside Brandon Suggs, helped bring the crowd to its feet early with five of UCF's first nine points, including his team's first triple.
The Knights defensive scheme wasted no time in running with the quick offensive momentum. After taking a 10-9 lead with 13:22 to play in the first half, UCF stymied Miami to the tune of only five points in the ensuing 9:22 of gametime, including a scoreless drought of 6:34.
The Knights offensively were unable to take advantage of the stingy stretch created by its defensive play, though, as UCF went without a field goal of its own for over eight minutes until Darius Johnson's layup that gave his team a 22-20 advantage with 3:14 on the clock in the first.
"I thought our defense was in place, and we were guarding hard," Dawkins said. "But give them credit, they were defending well and we couldn't score. Both teams were kind of stuck even though we were getting stops. We weren't able to build a sizeable lead because we couldn't come down and execute and score the ball ourselves."
The two squads traded blows until the initial half's final minute, during which Miami drilled a pair of 3-point tries that included a buzzer-beater, to send the Knights to their six-point halftime deficit.
Suggs joined Johnson in double-digit scoring with 11 points of his own, marking his second straight 11-point game and his third showing with double-digit points this season.
The Knights, having suffered only their sixth loss to an in-state opponent under Dawkins to drop to 20-6, will have a week to work on corrections before a 2 p.m. home tipoff against Samford Sunday afternoon.

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