Men's Hoops Beats Florida 67-49, Advance to Second Round of NIT

NIT Bracket Stats (PDF)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The UCF men's basketball team was victorious in its NIT First Round matchup, dominating their in-state foe Florida 67-49. The Knights are the only team this season to hold the Gators under 50 points as the Black and Gold earned their first win in Gainesville in program history.

"I thought our guys came ready and prepared, I think both teams played hard," said head coach Johnny Dawkins. "After they got off to a 9-2 start, I thought our guys really locked in and were really focused. We were able to turn them over which gave us some chances to get some easy baskets and really get some momentum to end the first half."

The Gators jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead just 2:11 into the game. The Knights were unphased, turning around and going on a quick 9-0 run over the next three and a half minutes to pull in front 11-9. A three ball from Florida was its only points in an eight-minute span as the Black and Gold continued to build a 24-5 run.

With the UCF lead at 26-14 and having held Florida to just five points over 10:55 of gameplay, the Gators finally began to have some shots fall again. They went on a quick 7-0 run after making three free throws and a pair of layups to make it 26-21 and forcing UCF to take a timeout.

Layups from Ithiel Horton and Lahat Thioune gave UCF some breathing room again, putting them back up 30-21 before ending the half in the lead 35-26. The Knights shot 55.6% in the first half while holding the Gators to 32.1% from the field and 20% from the three-point line. The Black and Gold forced Florida to turn the ball over 13 times in the first half, which at the time already became the most in UCF's NIT history, topping the 11 turnovers created in the 2017 game against Illinois.

The second half began with a bang as Darius Johnson snatched a steal and passed it ahead for C.J. Kelly, who in turn alley-ooped it for Taylor Hendricks who threw it down with authority, putting UCF up 41-30 three minutes in. The Knights went on another run, posting nine straight points to go up 50-32 with 10:48 to play, leaving little doubt in the outcome of the ballgame down the stretch.

The Knights built a lead as big as 24 points after Thierno Sylla nailed a corner three prior to the contest going final at 67-49. The 49 points netted by Florida was the least that the Gators had scored at home since Jan. 13, 1962, when they beat Auburn 43-40.

Kelly led the way for UCF on the stat sheet, scoring 21 points while adding four rebounds and two assists. Hendricks added 17 points, eight rebounds and two blocks while Horton scored 12 points with four rebounds and three steals. Thirteen of Hendricks' points came in the first half while 14 of Kelly's came in the second.

UCF has now held six opponents to 50 points or less this season, achieving defensive masterpieces against Florida, Tulsa, Wichita State, Tarleton State, Santa Clara and Western Illinois.

The Knights created 18 Gator turnovers when the final buzzer sounded, the most in UCF's NIT history and tied for the fourth-most this season, joining four other games with the same number. The 13 steals the Black and Gold accumulated were tied for the second most this season.

UCF finished the evening shooting 52.7%, its second-best shooting performance of the season. The 29 field goals made by the Black and Gold is a new NIT-best for the squad, topping the 25 makes against Colorado in the 2017 first round of the tournament. On the flip side, Florida finished the night shooting 32.3%, from the field and 16.7% from three, the fourth and third lowest numbers by a Knights opponent this year, respectively.

Johnson had five steals in the contest, an NIT record for a Knight, topping three previous members of the Black and Gold that had two; Horton also got in on the action with three. Kelly's nine field goals and Hendricks' eight both topped the previous best of seven in the NIT set by B.J. Taylor on the same date back in 2017 against Colorado.

Kelly's 21 points are good enough for third-all time for any UCF player in the NIT. He has scored 21 or more points this postseason, averaging 23.3 points per contest through the American Athletic Conference Tournament and the NIT, leading the team by a wide margin during that stretch. He has shot 66.7% from the field and 75% (9-for-12) from beyond the three-point arc over that time.

As a team, the Knights are shooting 46.4% in the postseason, 3.2% greater than their 43.2% season average, and scoring 73 points per game.

The Knights are now 22-8 against opposing schools from The Sunshine State during the Dawkins era. Two wins were added to that tally earlier in the campaign as the Black and Gold beat Florida State 68-54 on Nov. 11 and topped Stetson 73-58 on Dec. 21. In the three victories over Florida foes this season, UCF has outscored them by an average of 15.7 points.

 "To me, it's a really good win," said Dawkins. "We look at it as we have a really good state with a lot of talented teams and really good coaches, and so I think the opportunity to play each other is always good and I'm glad we had the opportunity to play against the Gators today."

The Knights advance past the first round of the NIT for the second time in program history in three total tires. UCF's 2016-17 team punched their second-round ticket with a 79-74 win at home over Colorado six years ago to the day, representing the program's first postseason win. That victory sparked the Knights' run to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York that season. The Black and Gold are now 4-2 all-time in the NIT.

UCF will visit Oregon, the top seed of the region, on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET inside Matthew Knight Arena. The first meeting in program history between the Knights and Ducks will be televised on ESPNU.

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