Men's Hoops Outlasts Samford 80-77 in OT

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ORLANDO – In a game that featured 52 combined fouls, 63 total free throw attempts and five extra minutes beyond regulation, it was a play freshman Taylor Hendricks made off the ball that made the final difference.
With the UCF Knights trailing 77-76 in the final minute of overtime, the freshman forward held constant pressure on the Samford's Jaron Rillie and was ready when the guard attempted a behind-the-back dribble but lost control of the ball.
Hendricks' steal and a quick pass to redshirt sophomore Jayhlon Young in turn set up the latter's two game-winning free throws that helped the Knights outlast the Bulldogs Sunday afternoon by an 80-77 final score at Addition Financial Arena.
"I give a lot of credit to Jayhlon, who stepped up because his role changed at halftime when he came off the bench and [Darius Johnson] started," head coach Johnny Dawkins said. "He didn't let that affect his performance, and so when 'DJ' fouls out, he responded, he was ready for his opportunity again and made the most out of it for our team."
Young's two free throws, the fourth- and third-to-last of the game for the Knights (6-2, 0-0 AAC) that came just before senior Brandon Suggs nailed two more with 3.7 seconds to play, represented the 31st and 32nd out of UCF's 34 total attempts in a game that was won at the charity stripe.
"We just have to play our defense without fouling, because it's really the free throws that really kept them in the game with us and let us go to overtime," Hendricks said. "They were knocking down pretty much all of their free throws, and it definitely makes the game a lot harder."
Indeed, a Bulldogs (6-4, 0-0 SOCON) team that is now averaging a 74.4 percent success rate on just over 20 free throws per game converted 24 of their 29 chances from the line, a rate of 82.8 percent that bested UCF's 67.6 percent (23-of-34). In the end, though, Samford's 28 personal fouls, a mark that topped the Knights' 24, gave UCF the breathing room it needed in the game's final minute. Samford entered the game ranked first in the nation in free throw percentage and fifth in total free throw attempts, only improving both numbers in each category.
"We beat a good basketball team," Dawkins added. "We had a healthy respect for who they are and what they do, and I think it showed. Our guys showed a lot of grit when a lot of things weren't going our way. We still found a way to be successful and that has the makings of a good team."
Taking the floor for the first time since their Nov. 27 loss to Miami, marking their longest break between action thus far, the Knights battled through a close first half that saw the largest lead for either team grow to only six points, a lead the Knights held halfway through the frame.
Hendricks, who scored a game-high 21 points, drilled a pair of 3-point shots during the game's first four minutes to give UCF its first six points out of the hiatus and lead UCF to an early 9-7 lead.
The Fort Lauderdale native's 21-point game marked his fourth in his last five games with double-digits and his second showing with north of 20 points this season. Hendricks missed just one shot from the field all game, finishing with six-of-seven made field goals, including four-of-five from beyond the arc and five made free throws of his seven attempts.
Redshirt senior Ithiel Horton sunk the Knights' third triple in the first 10 minutes and fellow redshirt senior Lahat Thioune added four more on an 11-7 UCF run that pushed the Knights' advantage to 20-14 with just under 10 minutes to play in the first half.
Samford battled back to tie the game with six unanswered points while neither team managed more than four straight points through the end of the first half, with UCF bringing its smallest halftime lead of the season, 33-31, into the locker room.
"When you can fight out of circumstances that aren't going your way, whether it was foul trouble with everyone in the first half, a lot of fouls for both teams, a lot of free throws," Dawkins continued. "But our guys just kept fighting. They kept believing and a number of guys stepped up, and we were able to win a hard-fought ballgame."
The battle continued throughout a second half that saw UCF make 14 of 18 free throws against just nine made field goals, including a seven-minute stretch that saw just one make from the field against nine made free throws from Hendricks, C.J. Kelly and Michael Durr.
Behind Hendricks, Kelly broke out of a three-game slump that saw him total eight points with 16 on the night, and Darius Johnson followed his 24-point performance last week with 12 more.
The Black and Gold are out to a 6-2 start for the second consecutive season and for the fourth time in the last five seasons. One of those runs ended in an NCAA Tournament berth as the 2018-19 team started 13-2 on their way to a No. 9 seed in the dance.

The Knights, in the midst of end-of-semester finals, will have a week to prepare for their next matchup, a home tilt against Tarleton State Dec. 11 with a noon tipoff.

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