Men's Hoops Edged by No. 3 Houston 71-65

Stats (PDF)

ORLANDO – The UCF men's basketball team took the nation's No. 3 team to the wire but ultimately couldn't top the Cougars in Houston, getting edged by a final score of 71-65.

"They have a very good basketball team," said head coach Johnny Dawkins. "I felt we were a little rushed in the first half. I thought we settled in and started concentrating a little more on things we talked about in our game plan. That's how we were able to work our way back into the game."

The beginning of the contest was back and forth and saw UCF take a 10-7 lead thanks to a C.J. Kelly. Houston turned things around though, going on an 18-4 run to pull ahead by 11 with just over nine minutes to play in the first half. The Cougars eventually built their lead to 14, going up 32-18 with 6:40 to go in the opening 20.

The 14-point edge went down as Houston's largest lead of the game as the Knights began to chip away as the clock ticked closer to halftime. Kelly tallied the game's next five points and was later followed by a pair of Taylor Hendricks and Darius Johnson free throws to cut the deficit back to nine. The two sides traded buckets before Johnson made a layup with 42 seconds left in the half to send UCF into the locker room down eight at 39-31.

The Knights came out with force in the second half, exploding out of the halftime locker room to put up a 9-0 run. Ithiel Horton got it going with a second-chance three-point shot after a Hendricks rebound. Horton followed up his three-pointer with a two to cut into the Houston lead even further. Hendricks navigated into the paint and through a pair of defenders to dunk the ball home to cut the deficit to just one.

UCF took its first lead of the second half at the 17:20 mark of the second half as Houston was frantically passing the ball around their end of the floor. They heaved it across to the other side of the floor, where Kelly was able to reach in and poke it away for Horton who finished the play with a slam at the other end to take the 40-39 lead.

Houston made their first shot of the half four minutes in as they hit a three pointer to take a two-point lead. The Knights took it right back after a three-pointer from Johnson. UCF pushed the lead to four, its highest of the game after a Hendricks three ball put them up 46-42 with 15 minutes to play in the game.

The Black and Gold made a trio of free throws after a pair of Houston buckets tied things up, taking a 49-46 lead. A three-pointer and a free throw then gave Houston the lead, going up a point. The two sides continued to trade the lead until there was 6:40 left in the game when the Cougars retook the lead for good.

UCF kept it close until the final buzzer, pulling back within one at 62-61 with 2:52 to go after a Kelly free throw. Five Houston free throws swelled the Cougar lead back to six. Johnson earned an additional four points with under 26 seconds to go, but the Houston free throws at the other end sealed the deal as the Knights fell by a final of 71-65.

"We have a good group," said Dawkins. "We have a lot of work to do, we know that. We are still a work in progress with so many new players. We're gonna keep on trying to get better every game. There are no moral victories in our sport unfortunately, so we need to figure out how to get better as we go through the season."

Both UCF and Houston had similar numbers across the board. The Knights outshot the Cougars by a slim margin, shooting 38.9% to the opponent's 37.5%. The Black and Gold came into the contest 8-0 when holding other teams under 40% scoring. Houston narrowly outrebounded UCF by a 41-37 margin. Each side had four blocks and hit six three pointers.

Johnson led the way in scoring on the night, tallying 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Just behind him was Hendricks and Horton, each draining 14 points. Durr, Johnson, and Horton were tied for the team lead in rebounds, collecting eight apiece.

The Knights close out the 2022 calendar year with a record of 10-4 and a 1-1 mark in conference play. Their four losses have come by a combined five possessions.

"We have to close games better; that's what it comes down to," said Dawkins. "I think we've done that fairly well most of the season. As we continue to improve in that area, executing down the stretch, and that comes with more chemistry and continuity."

UCF is back in action on the road at ECU on Jan. 4 for a 7 p.m. tip. The Pirates are also 1-1 in conference, coming in with an overall record of 10-5. They suffered a two-point defeat at the hands of Temple before beating Wichita State on the road on Saturday.

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