Men's Hoops Makes History in 75-61 Win Over No. 23 Texas Tech

by Ken Landis

ORLANDO – For the first time in program history, the UCF men’s basketball team can boast that it has three wins over a ranked opponent in a single season. The Knights defended home court on Saturday afternoon, beating No. 23/23 Texas Tech 75-61 to snap the team’s four-game skid. What was a tight game for 30 minutes became the second-largest margin of victory over a ranked opponent thanks to a late 20-3 run from UCF.

The Black and Gold have earned ranked victories over No. 3/3 Kansas, No. 23/24 Oklahoma and No. 23/23 Texas Tech this season. UCF now owns 10 ranked wins in program history, with eight of them coming with head coach Johnny Dawkins at the helm.

“You could see the weight lifted off of them. It’s tough. This league is really unforgiving, and so if you don’t find ways to respond right away, it can snowball quickly. It can go either way, good or bad. We had a tough patch. Whenever I’ve faced adversity as a coach or player, you have to use it as an opportunity. There’s something you can grow from within it. Nobody likes to lose and I can’t stand it…but there were some things we had to learn to become a better team. I thought that experience, as tough as it was, I think it helped us get better in a lot of ways. Now, we have to carry that forward and not forget those lessons that we learned.”

Johnny DawkinsUCF Men's Basketball Head Coach

As opposed to the previous four games, the Knights were able to hang tough with their foe early. Texas Tech opened the game with a quick jumper, and UCF answered it with two Ibrahima Diallo made free throws. Texas Tech was able to edge out in front with a 5-0 run four minutes into the game to go up 12-7. The Knights answered with a bucket and free throws to trim the margin back to one. The back-and-forth continued until UCF put up an 8-0 run to jump in front 23-19.

UCF held onto the lead into the halftime locker room, holding the 36-32 edge. The final basket of the period was electric, as Darius Johnson missed on a three-pointer with two seconds to go, but the rebound went to C.J. Walker who banked the ball in off the glass at the buzzer. It was the first Knights’ halftime lead since the lead over No. 23/24 Oklahoma, a game in which the Black and Gold led wire-to-wire.

UCF and Texas Tech continued to try and get a leg up on their opponents, but it seemed each team answered the baskets of the other every trip down the floor. The UCF lead swelled as high as seven early in the second, jumping in front 45-38 with 14 minutes to play. The Red Raiders didn’t go quietly, answering back with a three to trim the UCF lead to four. Texas Tech and the Knights continued to trade blows, with the game still in single digits as the halfway point of the second mark passed.

At 53-51, the Black and Gold started to pull away with 9:26 left in the second, starting a run of three straight baskets to go up 60-51. Diallo started the stretch with a layup in the paint before Omar Payne tossed in a layup as well. Johnson converted on a three-pointer to make the UCF lead nine with 7:28 to play.

The short UCF 7-0 burst turned into a 20-3 landslide of a run over a total of 8:33 of gameplay. What was once 53-51 became 73-54 with just 1:09 left in the contest, as all Texas Tech could contribute to the scoreboard in that stretch was three free throws.

Pop Isaacs’ made free throw at 5:34 left on the clock broke up UCF’s 7-0 run. Another Johnson three pointer extended the lead to double-digits for the first time in the contest at 63-52. A pair of free throws from Darrion Williams briefly brought the lead back to nine, but it was the last points Texas Tech got prior to a 10-0 run by the Knights.

The 10-point sprint started with two Shemarri Allen free throws with 4:06 remaining. Jaylin Sellers laid in a fastbreak layup before Omar Dunk threw down a massive jam off a feed from Walker that brought the crowd to its feet and extend the lead to 15. The Knights didn’t stop there, as a Johnson steal led to a fastbreak slam by Allen at the other end. Johnson tacked on two free throws, completing the 10-0 and 20-3 run.

Texas Tech hit a pair of threes and added a free throw in the final 62 seconds, but all was academic at that point as UCF snapped its four-game losing streak with a 14-point victory.

Johnson finished the night with four steals, his third-straight game with exactly four. He now boasts five four-steal games in Big 12 play and overall has 13 games this season with three or more thefts. He has recorded a career-high 59 steals on the 2023-24 campaign, besting his previous high of 55 last season. It was Johnson’s eighth game with three or more made three-pointers and 21st contest with double-figure points. Johnson also added five assists, moving him into sole possession of ninth all-time for a career at UCF.

Sellers posted 15 points on the night, the 18th occurrence on the season. A host of Knights were close to reaching double-digits as Allen finished with nine while Walker and Omar Payne had eight.

In front of the frond-filled student section, Texas Tech missed five of its 12 free throws in the second half, a critical part in what helped UCF pulled away. Since the palm fronds came out to play in the game against No. 3 Kanas, opponents have shot just 69.3% from the charity stripe, going 61-for-88.

UCF imposed its will around the basket on Saturday evening, outscoring Texas Tech 32-12 in the painted area. The Knights also won the turnover battle, coughing up the ball less than 10 times for the fifth straight game. The Black and Gold forced 14 turnovers and had 11 steals, the 10th time this season earning double-digit steals.

The Knights will embark on their penultimate road trip of the regular season, visiting Oklahoma State on Wednesday for an 8 p.m. ET tip. UCF then finishes its schedule with No. 6/6 Iowa State and No. 2/2 Houston at home before heading to Fort Worth against RV/No. 25 TCU.

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