Men's Hoops Rallies Late, Falls Short at No. 19/17 BYU 90-88

by Ken Landis

PROVO, Utah – Sixty-two. That’s how many points the UCF men’s basketball team scored in the second half of a Big 12 Conference road game in front of 15,590 rowdy fans of a top-20 team in the nation. However, it wasn’t enough to erase what was once a 19-point deficit, as the Knights fell to No. 19/17 BYU 90-88 late Tuesday evening.

“We got off to a bad start, they had a lot of momentum,” said head coach Johnny Dawkins. “Our guys fought back and gave us a chance at the end, but you can’t keep battling uphill from that type of a deficit. We have to be better in that area.”

The Black and Gold didn’t get off to an ideal start, missing their first five shots of the contest along with a flagrant foul and three turnovers in the first 4:29 of action. BYU scored the first 10 points of the game before UCF finally took the lid off the basket 31 seconds later on an Antwann Jones jumper.

The Cougar lead swelled as high as 14 points before UCF could cut the deficit to six or less. The Knights finally cut the lead to four at 28-24 after back-to-back dunks from C.J. Walker and Omar Payne with 4:13 remaining in the period. But after scratching and clawing back into the contest, UCF’s defense surrendered an 11-2 run to finish out the half, heading into the locker room down 13 with the scoreboard reading 36-26.

The Black and Gold went four-for-seven from the free throw line in the first half while the Cougars went 14-for-15 from the charity stripe. The discrepancy in free throws in the first 20 minutes wasn’t that large, but that small crack turned into a chasm as the game went on.

BYU built the lead up to 19 within the first three minutes of the second half, earning nine of the first 12 total points out of the break to go up 48-29.

The final 15 minutes of the contest could best be described as a roller coaster, with its share of hills, valleys, twists and turns.

UCF got itself back into the contest with a riveting 12-0 run starting just north of the 15-minute mark, which was jumpstarted by its defense. Marchelus Avery got the Knights going with a steal and a layup at the other end. The very next possession, Darius Johnson snatched a steal of his own and was fouled on the fast break, resulting in two free throws which he converted. BYU travelled on its following trip down the floor, and Avery drew another foul, making one of two free throws. It was Johnson’s turn to put points on the boar, nailing a three. The momentum continued to build as Shemarri Allen made it five successive possessions with points, throwing down a jam to cut the deficit to single digits. Avery was once again on the scene the next trip down, capitalizing off a Jones steal and dunking it home, forcing BYU to burn a timeout. UCF scored all 12 points on its run in under two minutes on six straight possessions, making the score 48-41.

“We stayed with what we do,” said Coach Dawkins. “We started picking up full and started pressing. That’s who we are. We’ve got to make it a 94-foot game. I think at times, we get out of that a little bit where our guys start wanting to pace themselves. We can’t play that way. Our strength is in our numbers as you see in this game, we needed to play 10 bodies. When we play 10 guys versus the other team’s five or seven, then that’s when we’re at our best. If we try to go five-for-five with some of these teams, I don’t think that’s a strength of ours.”

The Cougar lead grew back to 14 at 60-46 in the next three or so minutes by piecing together a 12-5 run, with five of BYU’s points coming at the free throw line.

UCF continued to flirt with keeping the deficit from reaching double digits, at times bringing it back to eight or nine points before a BYU bucket would continue to try and push it to 10 or more. The Knights didn’t get the margin to seven until there was 4:10 to go as Johnson sunk a pair of free throws after drawing a flagrant after a made basket to make it 72-65. From the 11:11 mark to the aforementioned two made free throws by Johnson, UCF outscored BYU 19-12 with four of BYU’s points coming from the charity stripe.

The Knights had to start playing the foul game earlier than usual to try and erase the deficit, which was at 11 with two minutes to go, following a BYU three-pointer. DeMarr Langford Jr. answered at the other end with a jumper in the paint, cutting the lead to nine with 1:25 to go. A foul sent the Cougars to the line where they made one of two. Johnson responded at the other end with a layup, cutting the difference to eight. BYU again missed one of two and UCF climbed that much closer with a Jaylin Sellers three-pointer, shrinking the margin to six with exactly a minute to play.

Following a UCF timeout at the 1:00 mark, BYU converted on both free throws. UCF once again gained a point out of the transaction as a Johnson three-ball brought the team back within five with 41 seconds left in the contest. Another two BYU free throws were answered with a Nils Machowski shot from beyond the arc, bringing the Knights back within four.

More BYU free throws ballooned the lead back to six with 21 seconds to play. Avery missed a three-pointer on the trip down, but the rebound was collected by UCF, who drew a foul. Allen went to the charity stripe and made the front end of the chance but missed the second. Fortunately, Sellers collected the miss and kicked it out to Machowski, who was on target again from deep to make it a two-point contest with 10 ticks left on the clock.

UCF had to foul again, and BYU once more made its duo of free throws at the other end. The Knights missed a three-pointer on the return trip down, but once again gained control of the rebound. The ball found Allen, who made an awkward leaping deep two-pointer while trying to draw a foul. The referees spent a long time at the monitor reviewing the play and determined it was inside the three-point arc, no foul and the ball went through with 0.7 second left. The score stood at 90-88 with UCF needing a quick turnover and shot. The BYU inbounder tried a bit of a hail mary, sending it as far from the Knights’ hoop as possible. Although the ball was tipped way down court, it didn’t land in a UCF player’s hands until after the horn had sounded.

BYU posted free throw numbers not seen by a UCF opponent in nearly 15 years. Even though the free-throw tactic started relatively early in the game, the Cougars were still able to go 40-for-46 from the charity stripe in a 40-minute contest. The last time a Knights foe made 35 or more free throws was on Feb. 27, 2010, when Marshall went 43-for-67 of its free throws. That game went into triple overtime as the Thundering Herd took the 121-115 victory. On the flip side, UCF finished Tuesday evening with a 14-of-26 mark from the free-throw line.

Free throw shooting may dictate how the final seven games of the regular season shake out for the Black and Gold. UCF shoots 73% from the charity stripe in winning efforts, while shooting nearly 10% lower at 65.2% in games they lose.

The Knights forced 17 BYU turnovers in the ballgame, the second-most they have forced in Big 12 play thus far. It’s the eighth time this season that UCF has forced 17 or more turnovers in a game in 2023-24. Ten of Tuesday’s 17 forced blunders came from steals, the ninth time this season UCF has tallied double-digit thefts.

Johnson led the Knights in scoring for the ninth time this season, scoring 20 points to give him his fourth 20+ point game of the campaign. Joining him in double-digits was Sellers with 17 and Machowski with 11.

The Knights lost by just five points in the first meeting against BYU, a night in which the Blak and Gold only shot 29.3%. Tuesday night saw UCF shoot 50.7%, its third-highest clip of the season, including 57.5% from the field in the second half. Despite outscoring the Cougars 62-51 in the second half, BYU used 55% shooting and a 26-of-31 clip from the charity stripe in the final frame to cling to the victory.

To put in perspective how rare UCF’s 62-point second half was, the Knights have held their opponents to 62 points or less in 14 full games this season. Two of those games came against top-five teams, holding No. 3 Kansas to 60 points and No. 5 Houston to 57. UCF scored 51 of its 62 second half points in the final 15 minutes of Tuesday’s tilt.

The Knights return home to host long-time foe Cincinnati on Saturday for a 4 p.m. tip inside Addition Financial Arena.

Follow UCF men’s basketball on X (@UCF_MBB), Instagram (@UCF.MBB) and Facebook (/UCFMensBasketball).

Never miss any UCF Knights news from your favorite teams by downloading the free UCF Knights app right to your iOS or Android devices. The app provides personalized information for men’s and women’s teams, scores, schedules, loyalty programs and breaking news. Click here to download the app now.