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Men's Basketball Edged by No. 18/17 BYU, 63-58

by Ryan Ladika

ORLANDO – En route to the UCF men’s basketball team’s Wednesday upset of the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks, a double-digit comeback was instrumental in the group pulling off one of the more prolific victories in program history.

The Knights nearly accomplished the same feat in their second straight home contest against a ranked conference foe Saturday night, but a second-half comeback bid fell just short in the team’s 63-58 loss to the No. 18/17 BYU Cougars at Addition Financial Arena.

“Tremendous grit,” head coach Johnny Dawkins said of his team. “Both teams defended their hearts out, they’re one of the top defensive teams in the country and so are we. It played out in today’s game. They made a few more plays than we made and that was the difference.”

In spite of the Knights’ (10-5, 1-2 Big 12) offensive struggles throughout the evening, the group did its part on the defensive end of the floor, stymieing a Cougars (13-3, 1-2 Big 12) offense that averaged just over 87 points per game through its first 15 games this season.

UCF’s defensive scheme, spearheaded by fifth year forward Ibrahima Diallo’s career-high 19 rebounds, limited BYU to nine 3-point field goals, marking just the third time this season the Cougars failed to eclipse at least 10 triples. Their 63 points marked their second fewest of the campaign as well, and the visitors’ 12 assists represented their fewest in a single game thus far.

With his career game on the glass, Diallo became the 13th player in program history to pull down least 19 rebounds in a single game, and now sits tied for ninth on the UCF single-game rebounds list. Diallo’s 19 rebounds also represented the highest single-game total by a Knight since Tacko Fall snatched 20 against SMU Feb. 24, 2019.

Diallo scored 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting (50 percent) on the offensive end as well, securing his second double-double of the season and the team’s fourth of the year.

“Our guys always give us an opportunity,” Dawkins continued. “You’ll never see a team from UCF that doesn’t play with great energy. We did again tonight, that gives us a chance because we keep fighting. It showed today, but we came up short.”

Built upon converted attempts at the free throw line, UCF, which trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half, staged a valiant comeback attempt within the final nine minutes of the game.

Diallo finished back-to-back field goals to trim the Cougars’ lead to 57-48, and after a Shemarri Allen dunk electrified the hometown crowd, Darius Johnson, CJ Walker and Jaylin Sellers each went 2-for-2 from the free throw line around another Diallo layup that brought the Knights to within one point, 59-58 with two minutes left.

It proved to be as close as UCF would come, as BYU once again pulled away with four straight converted tries from the charity stripe.

“We always say the same thing, defense is what travels and offense can come and go,” Dawkins added. “Tonight, we didn’t have (the offense). Credit them for how they played, but it’s no excuse that you can’t defend with great energy and effort and play within the system that you have.

“Our guys played within that system, they played the right way defensively and it gave us a chance to win. That’s what you want, those are things that we have to execute and complete at the end.”

Three consecutive 3-point field goals by the tandem of Johnson and Walker gave the Knights a quick start offensively, pushing UCF out to an early 11-7 lead, but the group managed just four field goals in the final 14-plus minutes of the opening half.

Johnson, who finished with a game-high 18 points in his seventh consecutive game in double figures and his 13th such game this season, paced the team with 13 in the first 20 minutes on 5-of-10 shooting (50 percent) and a 2-of-5 showing from beyond the arc.

Another high-flying Walker dunk after a Sellers free throw opened the second stanza gave the Knights their first lead of the final 20 minutes, 27-26, before the Cougars limited UCF to just four more field goals prior to the Knights’ late surge.

“In the second half, (BYU) was a little bit better," Dawkins said. "They got some looks, and for us, we have to stay focused. We got lost a few times with their movement, and we have to do a better job of staying locked in for the entire possession. If you don’t they’re going to make you pay.”


The Knights hit the road for their second Big 12 road trip next week, beginning a two-game away stint with a Wednesday matchup at No. 25 Texas. Tipoff from the Moody Center in Austin, Texas, is scheduled for 8 p.m. Jan. 17, and will be streamed on the Longhorn Network.


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