Men's Hoops Falls on the Road at Cincinnati 68-57

by Ken Landis

CINCINNATI – It was a tale of two halves in the UCF men’s basketball team’s contest on Saturday night, one that saw the Knights play stellar on both ends of the floor before Cincinnati erased a 12-point halftime deficit while shooting 63.6% in the second half to top the Knights 68-57.

“I thought our guys fought, I think they gave us good energy. I thought we played a really good [first] half of basketball offensively and defensively. The second half I thought it was the exact opposite. I thought especially that our offense hurt our defense, the ball got stagnant, didn’t move from sideline to sideline like we normally do on our attack, and I thought that led to some bad defensive possessions for us because they got out in transition and ran. I didn’t think the shot selections were great and they got some fast break points.”

Johnny DawkinsUCF Men's Basketball Head Coach

The Bearcats got out to a blistering start in the first three minutes of the ballgame, taking a commanding 13-4 advantage. From there, UCF took control, going on a 33-14 run to finish the half as Cincinnati went ice cold from the floor, paired with lethal shooting from the Knights as well as seven forced turnovers and a pair of blocks.

The Black and Gold shot an efficient 51.7% from the floor in the first, tying the team’s best mark in the first half this season. The Knights made 50% of their looks from beyond the arc, going 5-for-10, with three of those coming from Marchelus Avery and Jaylin Sellers nailing the other two. The pair were soundly in double-digits at the half, with Avery leading the way with 16 while Sellers had 12. The Knights held the Bearcats to 33.3% from the floor in the first and allowed them to convert on just a pair of triples.

The 12-point UCF halftime lead was built on a pair of massive runs, the first of which was a 13-0 run early in the period. Sellers had the first five points of the run to cut Cincinnati’s deficit to seven at 15-8. Avery tacked on another five points, while Antwann Jones added a layup and converted on the and-one opportunity from the free-throw line. Later, UCF put up a 10-0 run over a span of three minutes, starting with 6:40 left in the first. Sellers and Avery were the lone Knights to score on the stretch, each contributing five points.

After the Knights went into the locker room with a 39-27 halftime edge, the second straight Big 12 Conference contest with a dozen point lead in the break, the script flipped in the second half. The final 20 minutes of the contest were littered with UCF foul trouble, missed shots, Cincinnati trips to the free throw line along with points in the paint.

The Bearcat comeback began with a 8-2 run in the first 3:05 out of the halftime locker room, pulling the score back to 41-35. A quick four points from Sellers extended the lead back to 10, until a 9-0 run by Cincinnati, including four points from John Newman III, made the score 45-44 in favor of the Knights with 11:44 remaining.

Avery knocked down his fourth triple of the contest, tying a career-high he set earlier in the season against South Dakota St. in St. Augustine and putting UCF back up by four. Avery posted 22 points during that contest in the Jacksonville Classic, a season-high; Saturday’s 19 points slid in second in terms of highest-scoring game this season for the senior.

UCF forward and the Big 12’s leading shot blocker Ibrahima Diallo was whistled for his fifth foul of the contest with 9:13 to go in the game. At the time, fellow forward Omar Payne was at three fouls, inviting Cincinnati to raid the paint to exploit the foul trouble the Knights found themselves in. The Bearcats finished the ballgame with 36 points in the paint, 24 of which came in the second half.

Cincinnati tied the contest at 48-48 with 8:39 to go with a pair of layups. Sellers sunk one from the charity stripe to nose back in front, followed by another layup in the paint at the other end. Jones banged home a three pointer to put UCF up 52-50 with 6:56 remaining, which turned out to be the Knights’ final advantage of the evening.

Following the three from Jones, Cincinnati went on an 11-0 run, holding UCF without a basket for 5:56 of game play. Thierno Sylla snapped that scoreless streak with exactly 1:00 to go on the game clock to make it 61-55 in favor of the Bearcats. Cincinnati finished out the game with tree more free throws, a layup and a dunk, a 7-0 stretch in the final 34 seconds. Sellers hit a pair of free throws with 21 second left to get the final score to 68-57.

A trio of costly possessions on consecutive trips down the floor hampered UCF’s chances at fighting off the Cincinnati comeback. With Cincinnati up 54-52 with 2:30 remaining, the Knights were whistled for a five-second violation, as Darius Johnson was unable to find a man open on the inbounds play. The Bearcats sunk a triple at the other end following the turnover. On UCF’s next trip down, Avery was called for stepping on the out-of-bounds line. Cincinnati made the Knights pay for that turnover as well, tossing in a floater to make it 59-52 with 1:38 to go. The ensuing trip down saw Cincinnati snag a steal and charge down the floor where they forced Payne into his fifth foul of the game.

The Knights return to Orlando for a two-game homestand, hosting No. 15/14 Baylor on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. tip and No. 11/13 Oklahoma on Saturday for a 4 p.m. start. Both contests will be broadcast on Big 12 Now on ESPN+. As of now, the Black and Gold’s next two opponents will be the fifth and sixth ranked foes that they will have faced this season.