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Men's Basketball Tops Mountaineers 72-59

by Ryan Ladika

ORLANDO – The UCF men’s basketball team’s latest win represented yet another step forward as the group navigates its inaugural season in the Big 12 Conference.

In toppling the visiting West Virginia Mountaineers by a 72-59 final score, the Knights enjoyed a fast offensive start and rode a 13-point halftime advantage to their first win over the Mountaineers in program history and the 299th win of head coach Johnny Dawkins’ career.

The winning effort featured the Knights’ (12-6, 3-3 Big 12) first halftime lead since the commencement of conference play Jan. 6 in what proved to be one of UCF’s more complete all-around games against a Big 12 opponent.

“I’m really proud of our guys’ effort, we got off to a really good start,” said head coach Johnny Dawkins. “They’re a really good basketball team and it showed. You don’t want to make a habit of (coming from behind). It was good to see our guys build a lead, but can you manage that lead? That’s very important.”

A pair of electrifying dunks by fifth year forward C.J. Walker and guard Jaylin Sellers ignited the Black and Gold’s offensive efforts, propelling their team to a game-opening 19-7 run through the evening’s first 10 minutes of gametime.

After drilling the Knights’ first 3-point shot of the contest 46 seconds into the affairs, Sellers added six more to lead his team through the dominant stretch with nine points, factoring into his game-high total of 18. Ibrahima Diallo, Omar Payne and Thierno Sylla also factored into the run, combining for seven points, highlighted by Payne’s third 3-point shot of the season.

With the effort, the junior transfer recorded his 16th game in his first 18 as a Knight in double figures, continuing his torrid season-opening stretch as the fourth-leading scorer in the Big 12 with an average of 17.1 points per game entering Tuesday’s action.

Led by seven points from fifth year Antwann Jones, UCF closed the opening half as strong as it started, rattling off a 15-6 stretch on its way to a 37-24 lead at the break.

Jones produced one of his better all-around games since making his Knights debut Dec. 10, totaling 13 points in just over 25 minutes of action, both representing season highs for the Orlando native. He also tied his previous season high with three assists and drained his lone attempt from beyond the arc.

“He was terrific,” Dawkins said of Jones. “We talked about guys stepping up and helping contribute. He’s a player that you hadn’t seen do as much, and now in a meaningful game like this, you see him make the plays he made. As guys step up and contribute, it makes us a deeper team and a team that can play with a lot of different styles.”

In yielding only 27 first-half points to the Mountaineers (7-12, 2-4 Big 12), the Knights held West Virginia to 8-of-26 shooting (30.8 percent), representing the 13th occasion in UCF’s first 18 games that the Knights held an opponent to fewer than 10 field goals in a half.

The Black and Gold’s defensive effort was once again spearheaded by Diallo, who in recording his third double-double of the season and his second in his last four games, notched 12 rebounds, including eight on the defensive end, and three blocks.

His efforts only bolstered his standing as the Big 12’s leading blocker, with an average of two per game entering the contest, and with 14 points achieved a new season high while also going a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe.

Fifth year guard Shemarri Allen snatched four steals throughout the evening as well, registering his eighth consecutive game with at least one takeaway and pushing his season total to 35 after entering Tuesday’s action with 31, which ranked seventh-most in the Big 12.

“We spend so much time on our defense,” Dawkins said. “We’ve always felt that, to win anywhere, it starts on that end of the floor and then you build out. We’re still building out to our offense, and we’ll continue to improve in that area as these weeks continue to move forward.”

The two squads traded blows throughout the final 20 minutes as the Mountaineers matched the Knights’ 35 points with 35 of their own. Much like Sellers converted his first 3-point attempt less than a minute into the game, junior guard Darius Johnson drilled his first triple of the night just 56 seconds into the second half.

Sellers followed a Diallo 2-point jumper with his third triple of the contest and scored a team-best nine points in the second half, followed by seven from Johnson and six from both Jones and Diallo.


The Knights will look for their fourth conference win of the winter and second in a row on the road Saturday night when the team visits the Cincinnati Bearcats. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. and the game will be streamed on ESPN+


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