Knights Top Hatters 73-58 to Finish Non-Conference Play

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ORLANDO – The UCF men's basketball team wrapped up non-conference play with a 73-58 victory over Stetson on Wednesday night, improving to 9-3. Two Knights earned double-doubles on the evening as Taylor Hendricks recorded 16 points and 10 rebounds while Darius Johnson matched Hendricks' 16 points and collected a career-high 10 assists.

"It was a great basketball game, I thought both teams played well," said head coach Johnny Dawkins. "I thought our guys did a good job of responding. Both teams were in a position where they're trying to bounce back from some tough losses. I thought our guys did a really good job, especially when they made runs and cut the lead, to have someone step up and make a play and regain the momentum. That's what you want to see from your team and see how they respond to adversity."

UCF started the game on an 8-0 run for the third consecutive contest. The Knights' first possession nearly ended in a shot clock violation as the ball got away from Johnson at the top of the three-point line as the clock was inside five seconds. He recovered and dished it out to Ithiel Horton who nailed a deep three-pointer from well beyond the arc to put the Black and Gold in front first.

The Knights built a 12-point lead nearly halfway into the first half, leading the Hatters 21-9. The Black and Gold went back-and-forth with Stetson, trading buckets as UCF was unable to continue to build upon the early edge. The game hovered around a three to four possession lead for about four minutes before the Hatters began to inch closer. Stetson eventually trimmed the Knight lead to just one, trailing 28-27 with four minutes to go. UCF was able to re-extend the lead to as much as nine before the half ended and finished the first 20 with a 38-32 lead.

Johnson already has six of his 10 assists on the night at the break and led UCF in scoring with nine points. Hendricks had only collected three of his eventual 10 boards and had seven points at half.

Both sides continued to trade buckets to begin the second half, as the Knights and Hatters were never separated by more than five points for the first 15 minutes of play. A Horton three-pointer broke the glass ceiling and put UCF by eight with four minutes to play.

After a layup by Stetson, the Knights inbounded the ball quickly. Horton was on the receiving end of the pass and turned to sprint up the floor. He had an edge on the Hatter defense and cut to the rim, dunking over a Stetson defender in the process to bring the fans at Addition Financial Arena to their feet.

The Hatters went on to make just one more basket in the final 3:22 of game action after the Horton dunk seemingly swung all the momentum in the direction of UCF. Stetson went scoreless over the final 3:07 of the contest as UCF ended on an 8-0 run to earn the 15-point victory.

Johnson earned a career-high in assists with 10, topping his previous best of nine achieved in the final contest of the 2021-22 regular season. Johnson is the second Knight to tally a double-double this season, joining Hendricks who earned his third on Wednesday night. Hendricks is averaging 15.3 points and seven rebounds so far this season while Johnson has tallied 11.3 points per game and 4.9 assists a contest.

The Black and Gold are now winners of 20 straight over Stetson and improve on their all-time series lead to 31-15. It was the first time since 2018 that the two sides met on the hardwood. At the moment, Stetson and South Florida are tied for most games against UCF in program history, with the Knights playing each a total of 46 times. UCF plays South Florida twice later this season.

The Black and Gold are now 21-6 against opponents from the state of Florida under Dawkins. Stetson is the third Florida foe to face the Knights this season. UCF topped Florida State earlier this season before being edged 66-64 by Miami. A pair of games against South Florida are the only two games left on this year's schedule against teams from The Sunshine State.

Former UCF head coach Donnie Jones returned to Addition Financial Arena for the first time as a head coach of a different team. Jones led the Knights for six seasons, compiling a 100-88 record along the way. Dawkins was the immediate successor to the Knights' head coaching job and has led the Black and Gold to a 121-75 record under his direction.

The Knights conclude non-conference play with a record of 9-3. They're set to gear up for their final run as a member of the American Athletic Conference before departing for the Big 12 next season. UCF opens the conference slate by hosting Wichita State on Dec. 28 at 7 p.m. The Black and Gold have finished sixth in the league for the last two seasons. Their highest finish under Dawkins was fourth, achieved in his first and third seasons at the helm of the Knights. One of those seasons was the 2018-19 campaign in which UCF earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

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