Knights Drop Gut Wrenching, Last Second Loss at Temple

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PHILADELPHIA – The UCF men's basketball team suffered its third single possession loss in the last two weeks, falling to Temple in a 57-55 heartbreaker Wednesday night at the Liacouras Center. Free throws played a big part down the stretch, including the final Temple two points which came off a missed free throw, offensive board and layup with under a second on the clock.

"It's tough. It's tough for our players and everybody in the locker room," said head coach Johnny Dawkins. "Very disappointed. We've been in this situation before, and we just have to close. We have to make the plays to close the game. They made one more play than we did at the end, and that's what it came down to."

The Knights jumped out to a 15-9 advantage early with Taylor Hendricks cashing in on a triple to put UCF up six. The tide turned in Temple's favor after that basket as the Owls went on an 11-3 run over the next nine minutes, which included five UCF turnovers during that time along with over six minutes without a basket.

Both teams struggled offensively at the end of the first half, as just one basket was made from the field, a Darius Johnson layup that was ruled a goaltend. Temple went the final four minutes without a made basket, sending the two sides into the locker room with Temple in front 22-20.

Turnovers were abundant in the second half as the Owls turned the ball over nine times to UCF's eight. The Knights shot 29% while Temple sat at a 33% clip.

The Owls slowly built their lead in the early stages of the second half, pulling away from the Black and Gold. With just under 11 minutes to go, Temple's lead had swelled to a game-high 11 points at 45-34.

The Knights' comeback began shortly after the 11-point deficit as four of the next five made baskets belonged to UCF. Seven of the points on that run came from C.J. Kelly as he went on to score 19 points. At the end of the stretch, the Knights trailed by just four at 47-43 with 7:31 to go in the game.

"We just kept the defensive pressure up," said Dawkins on erasing the 11-point deficit. "We kept defending and telling our guys that we're right in the game. We were missing some shots we thought we could make, and the offense was going to come. As the offense started to come, we were able to make a run. Our defense had been pretty good other than probably the first four to six minutes of the second half. After that though, I thought we had locked in pretty good defensively, and then our offense started complementing our defense."

Temple made one of two free throws with six minutes left in the contest, pushing the lead back to five. A pair of Hendricks makes from the charity stripe a minute and a half later got UCF back within three at 48-45.

Ithiel Horton drew a foul on a loose ball and went to the free-throw line, making both, making it a one-possession contest. Half a minute later, Kelly drew a shooting foul that sent him to the line, where he made both to put the Knights in front 49-48 with 3:25 remaining.

The free-throw line continued to play a big role down the stretch, as Temple drew a shooting foul and made both ensuing chances from the line, going back up by one. On the next possession, Kelly was fouled again, but this time only made one of two from the line to tie the game at 50-50.

A Temple make with 2:13 put the Owls up 52-50 before Kelly had another one-for-two trip at the free-throw line, cutting the deficit to one with 1:18 to go.

After an empty Temple possession and a UCF timeout following the rebound, Hendricks came in clutch, navigating around a defender and swishing a mid-range jumper to put the Knights up 53-52 with 28 seconds to play. The Black and Gold committed another shooting foul at the other end and saw Temple take advantage, going back up one.

It was Kelly's turn to come in clutch as he came flying in for a tough layup to put UCF up 55-54 with eight seconds to play.

A foul was called on Temple's trip down the floor to its end, so the Owls were sent to the line for two more free throws. They made one from the line but had the second bounce around and out. An Owl was on the scene for the rebound and the putback, going up 57-55 with 0.7 seconds left on the clock. Darius Johnson got a chance at the last-second heave but couldn't get it to go.

Kelly's 19 points get him that much closer to 1,000 career points, now just needing just 12 to reach the milestone. Hendricks dropped 16 points in the contest, the 25th time in 29 games he's been in double digits and the 18th time this year he has scored 15 or more points.

The Knights gathered just 23 rebounds in the loss, their fewest of the season. Their three lowest rebound totals have come in the last four games, with the lone exception coming against Tulsa.

UCF has suffered 10 losses by single digits and six losses by a single possession. Three of those single-possession defeats have come in the last five games.

"I'm a big believer in that you have to make your own luck out there," said Dawkins. "People talk about luck and balls bouncing, but I think you make your luck. And we had a chance to make our own luck. We had free throws we could have made, we had plays we could have made, we had boxouts before the last one; they had 11 offensive rebounds. If we cut some of those down all of a sudden, it's a different ballgame. So we have our chances, we just have to be better with our attention to detail."

After results across the country were finalized on Thursday night, the KenPom rating system had UCF fifth to last in its "luck rating" this season, meaning they are among the unluckiest teams in the nation in 2022-23.

The Black and Gold will play one final contest in the 2022-23 regular season as they return home for Senior Knight on Mar. 5. UCF will host ECU inside Addition Financial Arena for a 2 p.m. tip on Sunday before getting set to begin its journey in the American Athletic Conference tournament for one final time.

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