Men's Hoops Wins in Wichita for First Time, 72-67

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WICHITA, Kan. – The UCF men's basketball team snapped its five-game losing streak with a 72-67 victory on the road against Wichita State. The victory was the first for the Knights in Wichita in program history. Taylor Hendricks led the way with 23 points, tying a career-high.

"We got over the hump tonight," said head coach Johnny Dawkins. "We got it close, we tied, we took the lead and were able to maintain it. That's what we wanted to do. I'm happy for our guys because I know how tough a stretch it's been for us for a lot of reasons, but I'll tell you what, they responded really well tonight."

The Knights pulled in front early to the tune of a three-for-four clip from beyond the arc with Hendricks, C.J. Kelly and Ithiel Horton each burying a triple. Wichita State edged in front at 12-11, just before a scoreless run of two minutes by both teams combined. The scoring drought continued for UCF as they couldn't bury a shot in 4:47 minutes of game time. UCF had four turnovers during that stretch as the Shockers built their lead to 16-11 thanks to a 9-0 scoring run in a four-minute span, forcing a Knight timeout.

UCF went through a dry spell in the middle of the first half that saw the offense shoot 1-of-14 from the field. The Knights missed eight straight three-pointers after making three-of-four to begin the game. Kelly was fouled beyond the three-point line and sunk all three free throws to get UCF back in the ballgame at 22-18.

The Shockers jumped out to a 28-20 lead, their largest lead of the half. The Knights pulled it back within three to make it 28-25 thanks to a Lahat Thioune layup and Darius Johnson three. Wichita State seemed unphased, going back up 31-25.

A Hendricks converted and-one brought the game back within three. Wichita State answered with a mid-range jumper, which was answered by Johnson with a putback lay-in. The Shockers knocked down their third three of the first half to go up 36-30, their fifth made shot in their last seven tries. Nobody scored in the final 1:42 of the half, sending the Knights into the locker room down a half dozen points.

The Knights shot just 33% from the field in the first half while Wichita State shot 56%. UCF turned the ball over 10 times leading to just nine Shocker points. Wichita State had a 12-0 edge in fast break points.

"The guys were trying to do the right thing," said Dawkins. "I think they were too anxious. They're feeling the pressure after having not won in a few games and they want to get us the win. I think they were just feeling to much pressure, and I wanted to try and calm them down at halftime and have them understand that we did some good things and made some plays. I thought our guys continued to do those things in the second half to turn it around."

UCF didn't get back on track right away out of the halftime locker room as the Shockers built as much as an 11 point lead, going up 52-41 with 12:13 to play in the contest.

Something clicked for the Knights following the under-12 media timeout, as Hendricks drained a free throw and at three-pointer, followed by a Tyem Freeman three to cut the deficit to four at 52-48.

The momentum was snowballing to UCF's side now as the Knights forced four turnovers in the span of three and a half minutes, not allowing a Wichita State field goal over that time. UCF turned that momentum into an 11-1 run which was capped off by a pair of Thierno Sylla layups to pull the Black and Gold within one at 53-52.

UCF took the lead at 55-54 thanks to a Hendricks three-pointer that rattled around the rim and down and was followed by a quick Johnson layup on the fast break.

The Shockers briefly took a 60-59 lead with 4:53 to play on a fast break dunk, but that was the last time they would enjoy being out in front. The Knights turned around a quick 7-0 run as Hendricks added two free throws and a make in the paint while Horton nailed a three to put UCF up 66-60.

A pair of free throws for Wichita State brought the game back within four, but Kelly cashed in with his second triple of the night from way downtown, pushing the Knights to their biggest lead of the game at 69-62.

The Knights went on to hold Wichita State under 70 points, the first time holding an opponent under that mark since Jan. 8, an 85-53 win over SMU.

Wednesday night's victory was the first time that UCF had gone into Wichita and came away with a win after an 0-5 record there. The Knights had lost the first eight all-time meetings with the Shockers but have now won the last three. The Black and Gold have secured the season sweep of Wichita State, beating them 52-45 in the first game of conference play this season back on Dec. 28.

Hendricks finished the night with 23 points, tying his career-high which he set back on opening night against UNC Asheville. Horton added 14 points on four-of-six shooting from three-point land while Johnson contributed a dozen points to the total. Johnson was stuffing the stat sheet with all sorts of numbers throughout the game, finishing on triple-double watch down the stretch with seven rebounds and a career-high seven steals.

Seven steals by a single player is a rarity, and its been alost exactly 10 years since a UCF player has accomplished the feat. Johnson was the first Knight to nab seven or more steals for the first time since Isaiah Skyes totaled nine steals against Georgia Southwestern on Feb. 26, 2013.

UCF came from being down by six at halftime to grab the victory. It was the third time this season that the Black and Gold have overcome being down at half to win the game. They are 11-1 this season when holding a halftime lead and now 3-8 when trailing at the break.

The Knights committed just three second half turnovers to finish with 13, their lowest since turning the ball overt just eight times against No. 3 Houston on Jan. 25. UCF forced 18 Shocker turnovers and cashed in with 15 total points off those blunders.

The Black and Gold return home for the Space Game, as they'll be rocking their Citronaut uniforms while hosting Tulsa on Saturday at 7 p.m. A block party will be hosted prior to the contest.

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