Five Knights Reach Double Digits in 85-53 Win Over SMU

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ORLANDO – Senior guard Ithiel Horton and the UCF men's basketball team didn't need to be reminded of the heightened importance of the remainder of the squad's 2022-23 schedule.
On the back of Horton's team-leading and season-high 21-point performance, as well as five players who finished in double-digits, the Knights produced a dominant 85-53 victory over the visiting SMU Mustangs at Addition Financial Arena Sunday afternoon as the program officially crossed over into the second half of the season.
The winning effort, in which Horton, Taylor Hendricks, Tyem Freeman, Jayhlon Young and Brandon Suggs each hit double digits, represented the Knights' second game this season with at least five players scoring 10 points or more, and the first since their season-opener against UNC Asheville.
Young also wrapped up his first career double-double in the win with 11 points and 10 rebounds, marking his third double-digit scoring game of the year and his first since Dec. 11 against Tarleton. UCF (12-4, 3-1 AAC), meanwhile, clinched its third win in its first four conference games this season, with the lone loss to No. 3 Houston.
"I thought for 40 minutes it was a really good effort by our team and the energy was there," said head coach Johnny Dawkins. "We did a good job getting stops and it always starts there for us. When we're getting stops and making it difficult for the other team, it leads to us having some good things on the offensive end."
Led by Horton, one of the Knights' more consistent scorers through their first 15 games of the season, UCF jumped out to an early 12-4 lead through the contest's first 7:20 of game time.
The guard, who had notched double-digit points in five of his last seven games including his previous season-high 19 points on Dec. 17, followed a Michael Durr two-point jumpshot with a layup of his own and drilled the Knights' second triple of the afternoon minutes after Hendricks knocked down the first.
SMU (6-10, 1-2 AAC) fought its way back to within one point with a quick seven points, but the Knights again managed to distance themselves from their counterparts with a 13-7 stretch midway through the first half. With his team leading 12-11, Hendricks cashed in with his second field goal of the day before Horton again took over.
The senior converted both attempts from the free throw line and added his second 3-pointer of the half in producing seven of the Knights' 13 points during the run, boosting UCF to a 25-18 advantage with just over four minutes to play in the half.
On the other end, the Knights' defense paved way for a strong finish to the half, allowing just three field goals the rest of the way. Redshirt sophomore guard Jayhlon Young, meanwhile, tallied four quick points before Hendricks threw down an electric buzzer-beating dunk to send the Knights to the locker room with a 34-25 lead.
"I wasn't surprised," Horton said of Young's performance. "I knew 'Jay' was going to come in and step up. His role has diminished a little bit now that [Darius Johnson] was coming back, but I hope they don't forget what 'Jay' was doing for us in the first half of the season."
UCF carried its momentum over into the second 20 minutes of play, bursting out of the break with two more triples from Horton and a third off the fingertips of C.J. Kelly.
Following a made field goal and converted free throw from Young, Horton set a new season-high with his 19th and 20th points of the game via a put-back layup off a missed Kelly 3-point try, pushing the Knights' lead to 48-32 just under five minutes into the second half.
Horton's 21-point display marked his most productive game of the year and his most robust point total since he scored 25 points on Feb. 9, 2022 with Pittsburgh.
"He was aggressive, he was looking for his opportunities and he took advantage of them," Dawkins said of Horton. "He's a good basketball player and I think it showed not just in this game, but in several games. Today probably was his best overall offensive game."
Overall, the Knights outscored the Mustangs 51-28 in the second half en route to their 32-point win, and 13 points from Freeman and Hendricks, in addition to 10 from Suggs, complemented Horton's big day. Their 51 points in the second half marked their highest output in a single half since the team scored 54 points in the second half of its 85-71 win over Michigan Dec. 30, 2021.
The Black and Gold heavily out rebounded the Mustangs in Sunday's contest to the tune of a 38-19 advantage. It is the lowest number of rebounds surrendered by the Knights this season.
The 85 points scored is the most by the Knights in regulation this season and the third time total. UCF scored 95 in its opening night double overtime loss to UNC Asheville and 80 in an overtime victory against Samford.
The victory is the Knights' second 30+ point win of the season, the other being a 70-37 final over Western Illinois. Sunday's 32-point win over the Mustangs isn't the biggest in the series history between the two sides as UCF nearly doubled SMU's score with a 95-48 result back on Feb. 24, 2019.
The all-time series between the two sides now sits at a 14-11 advantage in favor of SMU. The Knights earned victories in five of the last eight meetings, including four of them at home. The Mustangs are one of two teams that the Black and Gold face just once in conference play this year, meaning that this was the last American Athletic Conference regular season contest featuring both squads.

The Knights will now turn their attention to a Wednesday home matchup against a Memphis team enjoying an equally strong start to the season at 12-4. Tipoff from Addition Financial Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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