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Men's Basketball Tops Maine, 74-51

by Ryan Ladika

ORLANDO – The 3-point shot is, as head coach Johnny Dawkins put it, “the great equalizer.”

The UCF men’s basketball team put on a masterclass in defending the deep shot Monday night, ensuring the visiting Maine Black Bears never came close to allowing the triple to live up to its name.

Behind a stifling defensive showing, sound ball security and a consistent offensive attack throughout the evening, the Knights produced one of their most well-rounded games of the season, cruising past the Black Bears, 74-51, at Addition Financial Arena Monday night.

En route to registering their 23-point rout, UCF (7-3) yielded only one 3-point field goal on 19 Black Bear (8-5) attempts from beyond the arc, marking the fewest 3-pointers allowed in the Dawkins era.

The defensive gem represented the first time the Knights allowed one or fewer triples since UCF held UAB to an 0-for-23 effort from beyond the arc Jan. 9, 2013, and the overall fewest allowed in a game since Oklahoma State managed only two 3-point shots in 20 tries Nov. 18, 2022.

“It’s important for us to understand no lead is safe,” Dawkins said. “Just because you have a big lead, it doesn’t mean a team can’t make a run and come back. The 3-point shot is the great equalizer, and our guys defended the three really well tonight. We talked about taking the ‘next play’ mentality and coming out with the right mindset.”

Aided by a pair of triples by Darius Johnson, whose 16 points placed the junior guard in double figures for the eighth time in 10 games this winter, the Knights leapt out to a 15-8 advantage through the game’s first eight minutes. Jaylin Sellers added four points during the stretch, accompanied by three from Shemarri Allen and two from Marchelus Avery.

Sellers’ first four points of the night factored into his game total of 13, placing the junior transfer in double digits for the 10th consecutive game to begin his Knights career.

The guard remains within striking distance of matching Aubrey Dawkins’ mark of 18 consecutive such games in his lone season in Orlando in 2018-19, and remains the Knights’ scoring leader through 10 contests with 18.9 points per game.

Avery, Johnson and Thierno Sylla combined to score UCF’s next nine points, building their team’s lead to 24-11 with Sylla’s first triple of the game with 9:31 remaining in the half.

“I’m really proud of our guys, it was a good week for us,” Dawkins continued. “Our guys did a good job with the end of the semester, and we came in every day with that mindset. They responded the way you want to see them respond (to the Ole Miss loss) and came out focused and aggressive.”

The Black Bears tallied what would prove to be their lone 3-point field goal of the night with 7:54 to play in the first half, marking the first of just three field goals allowed by UCF the remainder of the opening 20 minutes.

The Knights remained aggressive on the defensive end to smother Maine’s offensive scheme, led by a pair of first-half blocks by Omar Payne. The fifth year forward tallied a season-high three on the night, adding to Ibrahima Diallo’s four to help push the Knights’ game total to eight.

UCF entered the evening’s action as the Big 12’s leading squad in blocks with 5.7 per game, and Diallo represented the Big 12’s leading blocker with an average of 2.33 per game.

“In recruiting those guys, we saw their abilities to do that,” Dawkins said of Diallo and Payne. “Going forward, we needed guys on the front line who are capable of blocking and changing shots, as well as rebounding in traffic. We thought both of those guys are capable of that, and it’s good to see them playing well together.”

After shooting 4-of-7 from beyond the arc in the first half, the Knights’ hot hand with the triple continued in the opening minutes of the second half, rattling off a quick 8-2 run that included two 3-point field goals by Payne and Johnson in the first four minutes.

Johnson would knock down UCF’s eighth triple of the night, including his fourth in four tries, down the stretch, and Sellers led the Knights in the final 20 minutes with seven points on 2-of-4 shooting with a trio of free throws.

Johnson’s 16 points paced the squad, followed by Sellers’ 13 and Avery’s 12, and Allen finished just shy of recording his first career double-double with nine points and nine rebounds.

“We’re always going to play as hard as we can defensively and make it as hard as we can. (Maine) is a good basketball team, and I give our guys a lot of credit,” Dawkins added. “Our guys are getting better in growing into our identity and what we’re trying to accomplish, and they’re understanding that and how they can do that better.”


The Knights have a quick turnaround in preparation for their next game, a Thursday evening tilt against Florida A&M. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 21, and the game will be streamed on ESPN+.


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