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Men's Basketball tops FIU, 85-62, in Season-Opener

by Ryan Ladika
Postgame Notes

ORLANDO – With the departure of the UCF men’s basketball team’s top three leading scorers from a season ago, Knights fans tuning in to the squad’s Monday evening season-opener were treated to an early look at who may take up that mantle for the 2023-24 group.

Against the visiting Florida International Panthers, junior transfer guard Jaylin Sellers represented an efficient offensive threat in leading 10 Knights making their UCF debuts, as the Black and Gold cruised to an 85-62 victory over FIU at Addition Financial Arena.

“Our guys got off to a good start tonight, we beat a team that we knew would be very difficult to play against,” said head coach Johnny Dawkins. “A team that presses for 40 minutes in their usual style, and I thought it was great for our guys. With 10 new players, we had a lot to learn about our players in that type of situation.”

The Knights’ 23-point victory represents the second-largest in a season- and home-opener under Dawkins, one point shy of UCF’s 80-56 win over Nicholls in 2016, and the team’s largest since its 26-point win over East Carolina in its 2022-23 regular-season finale.

In producing their comfortable victory, Sellers joined returning junior guard Darius Johnson in notching double figures with 23 and 15 points, respectively, with Sellers’ 23 marking a game-high and the second-most in a single game in the junior’s career on 8-of-15 shooting.

Sellers’ standout performance on the offensive end also represented the second time in as many seasons that a Knight has scored 23 points in his debut, matching Taylor Hendricks’ 23-point evening in UCF’s season-opener last season against UNC Asheville Nov. 7.

“Jaylin plays with a lot of spirit and a lot of passion on both sides of the basketball, and gives you great energy and effort every time he’s on the floor. His personality is that he’s fiery, he wants to get after it, and I’m going to roll with that because it helps our team and guys feed off of it. It’s a good thing for us.”

Sellers began the evening scoring four of the Knights’ first seven points, followed by five from Johnson, including the team’s first 3-point shot of the night, as the team leapt out to an early 12-4 lead four and a half minutes into the contest.

Freshman guard Mintautas Mockus and redshirt-freshman Tyler Hendricks, twin brother of Taylor, who this summer became the first NBA Draft Lottery pick in program history, both scored the first points of their collegiate careers as the first half of the first 20 minutes wound down, and after the Panthers managed to climb their way back into the affairs, UCF’s defense went to work.

Throughout the final 9:26 of the first half, the Black and Gold yielded only one 3-point field goal and a pair of free throws, bringing a 25-5 run and a 43-21 advantage into the locker room. Sellers paced the team in that span with eight points, followed by five from Thierno Sylla and four from Ibrahima Diallo.

“I think it was pretty good,” Sellers said of his performance. “Having my teammates trust me to get to my spots, and also to stay focused. Our leaders and all our players are helping me get open and trusting me to make plays for the team. I’m glad that they trust me.”

Another Knight appearing in his first contest for UCF, Shemarri Allen, scored seven of his team’s first 10 points of the second half, accompanied by Sellers’ first 3-point shot of the game. The Knights contended with a resurgent Panthers squad throughout the final 20 minutes, outscoring FIU by just one, 42-41, in the second half, with Sellers and Allen producing 11 and seven points, respectively, in that span to lead the squad.

Overall, UCF’s 10 players making their Knights debut combined for 61 points, 12 assists and 31 rebounds, and the team as a whole forced 24 turnovers throughout the game, representing the highest total forced by the team since taking away 24 against Memphis Feb. 16, 2023.

“I always give the other team credit for how hard they played, and on the other side, you have a lot of guys in their first time playing,” Dawkins continued. “All those things play a factor in what’s going on out there, and our guys played well. Jaylin Sellers was terrific out there, as well as Shemarri. He was a catalyst for us.”

UCF will look to build on its early momentum and clinch its second straight win to begin the season at No. 13 Miami Nov. 10. Tipoff from the Watsco Center in Coral Gables, Florida, is set for 7 p.m.


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