Men's Hoops Topped by Kansas State in Big 12 Conference Opener

by Ken Landis

MANHATTAN, Kan. – The UCF men’s basketball team had its hopes of earning its inaugural win in its new conference in game one dashed at the hands of Kansas State, who earned a 77-52 victory in Saturday’s Big 12 Conference opener.

“They got off to a really good start and got a lot of momentum early,” said head coach Johnny Dawkins. “We kept trying to fight back and tried to play catch-up throughout the night, and they just made the plays they needed to make to continue to maintain their lead.”

A Darius Johnson three-pointer with an assist from DeMarr Langford Jr. will be the answer to the trivia question as to who scored UCF’s first points in its new conference, but the trio of points didn’t come until over three minutes into the ballgame. The Wildcats pounced on the Knights early, jumping out to a 12-0 lead in the first 3:19 of gameplay, going five-for-eight from the field.

The Knights were able to trim the deficit to seven at 14-7 with 13:43 left in the first half thanks to back-to-back buckets by C.J. Walker and Marchelus Avery. That was the closest the Knights got to erasing the Kansas State lead as the Wildcats went on a 21-12 run the rest of the first half, leaving UCF down 35-19 at the break.

The Black and Gold shot a season low 21.6% in the first half, leading to their 19 points, which was also a season low for a half.

UCF’s shooting greatly improved in the second stanza of the contest as the Knights posted a 50% clip from the floor. The Black and Gold’s starting five shot 8-of-14 from the field in the second as the team as a whole went 14-for-28 overall. Ten different members of the Black and Gold had at least one bucket in the second half.

The Knights’ efficiency was overpowered by Kansas State’s three-point ability as the Wildcats used 6-of-11 shooting from deep in the second to continue to pull away.

Despite being down by as many as 35 at one point in its Big 12 Conference play debut, UCF exceled in certain areas. Kansas State came into the contest as one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation, ranked 12th in the country. The Knights held them below their season average, limiting them to 13 offensive boards while collecting 16 themselves to hold the edge over the Wildcats.

The Knights tallied six rejections on the evening, half of which belonged to Omar Payne, the second time this season he has swatted three shots aside. Payne now has six games with multiple blocked shots.

“[The Big 12 Conference] has been the best basketball conference in probably eight of the last 10 years,” said Coach Dawkins. “For us, we’re looking forward to competing. We’ve got one game under our belts; we have 17 more and every team is going to be like the type of team we played tonight. They’re all going to be very good. We understand that and respect them all. We’re going to keep working hard and keep growing as a team.”

The Knights will play their first home Big 12 Conference contest on Wednesday, hosting No. 2 Kansas at 7 p.m. in front of an already sold-out Addition Financial Arena. The game will be the first of a two-game home swing, as UCF hosts No. 12 BYU on Saturday at 4 p.m.

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