Career Nights from Johnson, Payne Not Enough at West Virginia

by Ken Landis

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Career nights on both sides of the ball weren’t enough to propel the UCF men’s basketball team to victory on Tuesday night as the Knights fell on the road to West Virginia 77-67. Darius Johnson had a career-high 29 points on the evening while Omar Payne tallied a career-best six blocks.

“We have to come out and start the game like we finish the game and that’s what I talked to our guys about at the end of the game. What we did at the end with pressing and running and creating turnovers is who we have to be from the beginning, and not allow teams to get comfortable and get settled into the game too early. We have to be the aggressors, and we haven’t been the aggressors."

Johnny DawkinsUCF Men's Basketball Head Coach

For the fourth straight contest, the Knights went down by double digits in the first half. West Virginia didn’t pull ahead by one overwhelming surge. The two sides traded the first two buckets of the game before the Mountaineers went on a 7-0 run to make it 9-2. Shemarri Allen hit a mid-range shot, which was answered by two West Virginia jumpers. A Johnson layup made it 13-6 but yet another two Mountaineer makes extended the deficit to 12 at 18-6 with 13:24 to play in the first.

After a UCF turnover with 9:06 to go in the opening frame, Jaylin Sellers ran down the West Virginia player streaking toward the hoop and completed the chase-down block, pinning the ball against the backboard. Initially, the call was ruled a goaltending but was later overturned at the following media timeout and two points were taken off the scoreboard. The Knights tried to get things going following the energetic play from Sellers as Allen converted from three-point land, making it 24-16.

It seemed that almost any positive play for the Knights was met with an answer on the Mountaineer end of the floor. Sellers cashed in on a three-ball with 36 ticks left in the first to cut the deficit to seven. The teams went to the locker room with a score of 37-32 but came out to a count of 37-30 as West Virginia had been ruled for a goaltend late in the half but was later overturned as well.

West Virginia shot nearly 20% better than UCF in the first, posting a 57.1% clip to the Black and Gold’s 37.5%. Not many whistles blew for fouls in the first, as UCF took just two free throws, making one while the Mountaineers hit two of their six.

The Knights got it to a five-point game with their first possession of the second as Payne recorded his third block of the evening just six seconds into the stanza. UCF pushed it up the floor for Allen who laid one up-and-in.

The Black and Gold didn’t shrink the margin any further as the night went on. UCF had seven of their 10 total blocks in the second half which tied a season-high, but still allowed the Mountaineers to shoot near a 40% clip, going 38.5% from the field and four-of-seven from three. The Knights shot just 28.9% in the second, including going 4-for-22 behind the three-point arc.

UCF showed heart late, trimming the deficit back to six at with a Johnson three-pointer to make it 62-56 with 6:11 remaining. The Mountaineer advantage swelled back to 13 in less than two minutes time, and the deficit never receded back to single digits, sealing UCF’s fourth straight loss. The Knights have led for just 29 seconds over the slide as West Virginia led wire-to-wire in Tuesday’s contest.

The Knights attempted a season-high 38 three-pointers, making nine of them. It was the first time UCF had attempted that many triples under Dawkins, with the next closest being 37 on Jan. 17, 2017 in an 86-64 victory over South Florida.

“Too many,” said Coach Dawkins. “We settled for too many threes. On the road, you can’t do that. Our guys got caught up with getting looks and just settling. We need to understand that the defense is designed for you to do some of that. We fell into that trap of just settling for some shots that we could’ve made an extra pass or went inside-out.”

Johnson’s 29 points set a new career best, topping his previous record of 25, which he achieved twice this season. His first time posting 25 points was against Charlotte in the Jacksonville Classic championship game, where he went 7-for-20 from the field and 10-for-12 from the charity stripe. The second was in UCF’s loss to Ole Miss where he went 9-for-16 from the floor. Tuesday saw Johnson make a career-high 10 field goals on a career-high 23 attempts. His five made threes were also a career-high, along with the 15 attempts from beyond the arc. Johnson now has 20 double-figure point games on the season and has hit the 20-point mark on five occasions. He added four steals and four assists on Tuesday night.

Payne’s six block performance was something that hasn’t been seen by a member of the Black and the Gold in a half decade. The Knight to swat aside six shots in a single game was Tacko Fall who accomplished the feat on the road at Missouri on Dec. 2, 2018. With the remarkable night, Payne now leads UCF in blocks during Big 12 play, recording 23, a 1.77 per game rate. Ibrahima Diallo added two blocks on Tuesday night, meaning the Knights’ two men in the middle accounted for eight of the 10 rejections in the contest. Sellers and Allen had the other two.

The Knights get another crack at a ranked opponent as No. 23 Texas Tech comes to Orlando for a 4 p.m. tipoff on Saturday. The Red Raiders are the team that began UCF’s losing streak, and the Black and Gold look to return the favor after falling 66-59 in Lubbock on Feb. 10.

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