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Men's Basketball Routs Jacksonville, 94-52

by Ryan Ladika

ORLANDO – A plus-30 scoring margin, six field goals against and only 18 points allowed through the first 20 minutes of play.

The UCF men’s basketball team flirted with defensive history in its eighth game of the young season, and on the offensive end benefitted from a career game authored by an unlikely source.

Behind a 20-point double-double recorded by sophomore forward Thierno Sylla, the Knights stifled visiting Jacksonville throughout the first half and cruised through the second stanza, routing the Dolphins by a 94-52 final score at Addition Financial Arena Wednesday evening.

“I think it’s probably the fastest start we’ve gotten off to in a game this season,” said head coach Johnny Dawkins. “I thought due to our guys being locked in defensively, we turned that into some good offense. We beat a good Jacksonville team. We came out ready and I’m proud of our guys’ overall effort for 40 minutes.”

Behind UCF’s (6-2) highest-scoring first half since its 96-52 win over Tulsa Feb. 11, 2023, the Knights recorded a season-high 94 points, representing their overall highest-scoring contest since their 44-point victory over the Golden Hurricane February 11.

The team also improved to 35-11 in the month of December under Dawkins, with the month representing the head coach’s career best by win percentage since taking the reins prior to the 2016 season. UCF entered the contest averaging 71.3 points per game in the month of December under Dawkins, while holding foes to just 61.9 points per game, a near double-digit margin of 9.4 points per contest.

“We picked up more in the full-court, we pressed a little more,” Dawkins continued. “Our guys were really engaged and got out there right from the tip. They were working and forced 14 turnovers, so we were doing a good job turning our defense into offense.”

Sylla provided a preview of what was yet to come throughout the evening through the first four minutes, scoring six of the Knights’ first eight points.

Five rebounds by the sophomore that complemented his fast offensive start also aided UCF in holding Jacksonville (6-3) scoreless through the first 4:37 of the game, and the Dolphins failed to convert on a field goal try for the contest’s first 8:23.

Junior transfer Jaylin Sellers, the Big 12’s leading scorer by points per game entering Wednesday’s action with 21.3, picked up where he left off in accompaniment of Sylla, following a pair of converted free throw attempts with his first two 3-point makes of the evening.

Six more points by Sylla, including a 2-for-2 showing from the charity stripe pushed UCF’s lead to 26-8 with 8:24 remaining in the opening half, and the sophomore drilled his first of two 3-point field goals in the midst of a 20-10 Knights run to conclude the first half. Sellers also added four more points, in addition to Marchelus Avery’s five in that span, help push the Knights out to a 48-18 halftime advantage.

The 18 points allowed to Jacksonville in the first 20 minutes represented the third-lowest of the Dawkins era, and the lowest since outscoring Tulsa 32-14 in the first half Feb. 26, 2023.

When the buzzer sounded to signal the first half’s conclusion, Sylla produced a team-best 15 points and added eight rebounds as he approached the first double-double of his career.

“He’s putting in the work. He doesn’t mind getting in the gym, trying to get better every day, and it’s great to see a young person be rewarded for his efforts,” Dawkins said of Sylla. “That’s been the key to his success is he continues to work. He has talent, and he’s just scratching the surface.”

UCF built the foundation for its second-half attack beyond the arc, as the squad drilled nine of its 15 3-point field goals in the second half, including five within the final four minutes of action.

Fifth year forward Omar Payne took advantage of an open look early in the frame with his second career 3-pointer, and his first since he was a member of the Dolphins Dec. 17, 2022 against Charleston Southern.

Sylla, Avery and Darius Johnson each cashed in from deep in the opening minutes of the half, and Tyler Hendricks, freshman Mintautas Mockus and redshirt-freshman guard Michael Kalina each drilled tries from beyond the arc down the stretch as the Knights outscored Jacksonville 46-34 in the second half en route to their 42-point win.

The team’s 15 3-point field goals marked a season high, and the most made by the team in a single game since UCF drilled a program-record 17 in its February 11 win over Tulsa.

UCF also claimed its 14th win over Jacksonville in the teams’ last 20 meetings, as well as its third straight win against the Dolphins dating back to Dec. 17, 2013.


UCF now faces perhaps its biggest test of the young season thus far, when it welcomes the undefeated 8-0 Ole Miss Rebels to Orlando for the fifth all-time meeting between the two programs. The Knights met the Rebels last year as well, topping Ole Miss by a 72-61 final score on the road. Tipoff from Addition Financial Arena is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10, and the game will be streamed on ESPN+.


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