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Men's Basketball Wraps Non-Conference Play with 98-54 win over Bethune-Cookman

by Ryan Ladika

ORLANDO – In the moments immediately following the UCF men’s basketball team’s Friday non-conference finale, head coach Johnny Dawkins pointed to three stats that jumped off the sheet in his hand.

Twenty-six free throws, 22 assists and 20 offensive rebounds. Dawkins was immediately met with emphatic applause and approval from his team.

The three key figures each played key roles resulting in one of the Knights’ more dominant wins of the winter, as the squad toppled the visiting Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, 98-54, at Addition Financial Arena Friday evening to conclude 2023-24 non-conference play.

“It was a good team win, I thought our guys played well,” Dawkins said. “Coming off the holidays, I thought our preparation was really good. It’s all about trying to get better every practice and every game. That’s the mindset that we’ve taken, and our guys did a good job of that these last couple of days.”

On the strength of a 54-point second half, representing the highest-scoring 20-minute period of the campaign, UCF (9-3) racked up a season-high 98 points, its most prolific night on the offensive end since its 107-104 double-overtime victory over the Memphis Tigers Jan. 11, 2023.

The team’s defense produced an equally stout performance on the opposite end of the floor, as the 26 turnovers it forced from the Wildcats (5-7) represented the highest single-game total in the Dawkins era (since 2016-17).

“Winning games gives you momentum,” Dawkins continued. “We’ve got some wins under our belt going into conference play. Our guys are in a good place in regard to that. We’re relatively healthy so far, and that’s a big part of any team’s success. As long as we keep working, stay healthy and try to keep getting better every day, every game and every practice, that’s all we can ask for.”

The Knights took command of the affairs from the first half’s tipoff and on, stifling the Wildcats to the tune of a 44-21 first half before outscoring Bethune-Cookman by 21 points in the final 20 minutes.

The squad’s lockdown defensive effort started beyond the arc, where UCF held the Wildcats to zero 3-point field goals in the first half and just four on the night. The effort marked the second time in the Knights’ last three games that saw the team yield zero triples in a half, and the fourth such half in that span with two or fewer 3-pointers allowed.

After junior guard Darius Johnson and junior transfer Jaylin Sellers ignited UCF’s offense with back-to-back 3-point field goals that put their team ahead 6-2 in the first 65 seconds, the squad authored a 20-2 run over 7:35 of gametime that factored into an overarching 22-6 stretch that propelled the Knights to a 28-13 advantage with 8:19 to play in the first half.

Senior forward Marchelus Avery paced the squad with six points in that span, supported by five from Sellers, four from Ibrahima Diallo, three from Shemarri Allen and two from both DeMarr Langford Jr. and C.J. Walker.

Sellers’ first eight points provided an early offensive jolt for the junior, who finished with a game-high 19, representing his 10th game with 15 points or more, and his 12th consecutive contest with double-digit points. He in turn continued his pursuit of Aubrey Dawkins’ (2018-19) streak of 18 straight games in double figures to begin his Knights career.

Fifth year guard Antwann Jones, playing in his fourth game of the season, led UCF through the remainder of the first half, drilling a pair of triples and scoring all 10 of his points in the final 3:38 of the period. His 10 points represented a season high and his first game in double figures since Dec. 23, 2020, when he notched 13 points with Creighton against Xavier.

“I’m really happy for Antwann and C.J.,” Dawkins added. “In Antwann’s case, he missed significant time, and to have him come back and play a game like he did tonight was really good for him to have that moment. For C.J. as well, think about what C.J.’s battled since he’s been here. I’m happy to see him on the court and getting some quality minutes while he’s healthy.”

The Knights exploded out of the halftime break with a 14-4 run spearheaded by five more Sellers points, in addition to four from Omar Payne, and UCF later punctuated its 44-point victory with a commanding 24-2 run that was made possible in part by nine converted attempts from the free throw line.

Its 44-point lead matched its largest of the year, also accomplished in its 72-44 win over Cal State Fullerton Nov. 16, and the team improved to 21-7 in 28 all-time meetings with the Wildcats.

Behind Sellers’ team-best 19 points, Avery (11), Johnson (10), Jones (10) and Walker (10) also recorded personal double-digit evenings, representing the first occasion UCF has benefited from five players finishing in double figures this season.

“I think for our guys, it’s going to be an incredible environment,” Dawkins said of the team’s upcoming Big 12 conference-opener at Kansas State. “There’s an adjustment period for our guys, we’ll try to do some things here in preparation for that. It’s exciting, and I’m looking forward to the challenge that it’s going to present.”


The Knights will travel to Manhattan, Kansas, to begin their inaugural Big 12 conference schedule against the Kansas State Wildcats Jan. 6. Tipoff from the Bramlage Coliseum is set for 6 p.m. ET, and the game is scheduled to be broadcast on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.


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