Strong Second Half Propels Men's Hoops Over Oklahoma State

by Ken Landis

STILLWATER, Okla. – The UCF men’s basketball team earned back-to-back Big 12 Conference victories for the first time with its 77-71 road victory over Oklahoma State on Wednesday night. The Black and Gold erased a 12-point deficit in the first half and used timely three-pointers as well as a large edge on the boards in the second to secure the win away from Orlando.

“Any win is a good win and a road win is great because they’re so hard to come by. I was proud of our guys. The game was a little disjointed because of the fouls but both teams have to do a better job of playing more disciplined. Even with that, I thought our guys did a good job of taking advantage of getting to the free throw line.”

Johnny DawkinsUCF Men's Basketball Head Coach

John-Michael Wright of Oklahoma State opened the contest by making two of the first three shots from the floor, sinking a pair of triples. He was fouled on the latter and converted on the free throw, giving the Cowboys a 7-2 lead. UCF brought it back within one at 8-7 after layups by Ibrahima Diallo and Thierno Sylla, but that was the closest the Knights got to taking their first lead of the contest in the opening frame.

Oklahoma State went on an 8-0 run late in the first, going up by double digits at 36-24 with 4:37 left in the half. UCF began to crawl its way back with a pair of triples, one from Marchelus Avery and the other from C.J. Walker. A pair of Wright free throws at the other end drew two points back for Oklahoma State but was answered with another triple from Walker, just the second time in his career hitting a pair of three-pointers.

The Cowboys cashed in at the line again, taking a 40-33 lead with 1:45 to go. UCF put on a quick five-point run thanks to a flagrant foul called on Oklahoma State with 1:10 to go. Shemarri Allen hit the two free throws following the flagrant, followed by Walker making one-of-two from the charity stripe on the ensuing possession. Allen hit another pair from the stripe with 41 ticks left, cutting the Cowboy lead to 40-38. Oklahoma State sunk another two from the free-throw line before the half ended, going 12-of-13 from the line in the first and taking a 42-38 lead into the break.

Both teams shot at a high clip in the first half, with UCF making 45.8% of its chances while Oklahoma State shot 43.3%. The Knights turned the ball over nine times compared to their opponent’s seven, making for a two-possession difference in the giveaway category and on the scoreboard.

While the first half belonged primarily to the Cowboys, it was the Knights who took control out of the halftime locker room. UCF shot 50% on its first 12 attempts from the floor, creating a 16-7 run over the first 5:38 of the second half to jump in front 54-49. Sellers got the stretch started with a three-pointer a minute removed from the break. Darius Johnson put the Knights in front with a deep jumper. Oklahoma State coughed up the rock on the following trip as Diallo snatched it and tossed it ahead. Johnson missed the driving layup, but Diallo was there to put it back with an emphatic slam. The Cowboys answered with a three-pointer, its only of the second half making it 45-45. Allen answered with a converted and-one while threes from Sellers and Johnson topped the strong run.

Oklahoma tossed in a layup off a UCF turnover to make it 54-51. That was the closest Oklahoma State got until late in the second half as the Black and Gold built a lead as many as eight with 9:43 and 8:51 left to play. The Cowboys crept their way back in it though, using a 7-0 run from Javon Small to cut their deficit to one at 64-63.

Free throws from bonus situations started early as Johnson cashed in on both opportunities on a one-and-one with 4:54 to go to get the lead back to three. Allen made one-of-two from the charity stripe following a shooting foul at 4:13 on the game clock, while Diallo did the same 51 seconds later, making it 68-63 in favor of the Knights. Diallo later grabbed another offensive board and shoveled it through the net to get the Black and Gold up by seven with 2:41 remaining.

Allen was whistled for a foul with 2:26 to go on a play away from the ball, sending Oklahoma State to the line via the double bonus. The Cowboys sunk the pair of free throws and converted on another set on a shooting foul with 1:11 remaining, making it 70-67. Oklahoma State wouldn’t come any closer as UCF took care of its free throws and clamped down on defense the rest of the way, finishing the evening going 27-for-36 from the charity stripe. A Walker missed free throw at 71-67 with 35 seconds left was collected on the offensive glass by Avery, effectively secuting the win for the Knights.

UCF heavily outrebounded its foe on Wednesday night, gathering 40 boards to Oklahoma State’s 27. It’s the first time since the 72-59 win over West Virginia on Jan. 23 that the Knights reeled in 40 or more rebounds and the 10th time this season. The 27 rebounds allowed on the contest were the second-lowest total surrendered by UCF on the campaign, second to only the 26 allowed against No. 18 Baylor. The Knights outrebounded Oklahoma State 25-10 in the second stanza, including nine offensive rebounds to the Cowboys' zero.

“On the boards, we challenged [our players] at halftime. We said this is not acceptable, this is not who we are, we’ve got to turn it up on the boards and we have to turn it up defensively. I thought our guys did a good job of turning it up in the second half.”

Johnson, Allen, Sellers and Walker all finished with double-digit points on the evening, scoring 15, 14, 12 and 10, respectively. Diallo nearly became the fifth to reach double figures, scoring nine on the night and finished with a team-high +13 in the +/- column.

Johnson and Allen each had two steals, which is fitting as the duo are two of the top five in the Big 12 in steals per game. Johnson entered the night 15th in the country in steals per game, averaging 2.27 while Allen was averaging 1.79 per contest, a mark that was fifth in the league. Johnson’s streak of three straight games with four steals was snapped, but his two steals on the night means he now has nine straight contests with multiple thefts and 12 total occurrences on the campaign with three or more.

UCF improves to 2-0 against Oklahoma State, with the other victory coming in Nassau, Bahamas, last season at the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship semifinals. The Knights earned a 60-56 overtime victory back on Nov. 18, 2022 for the program’s first victory over a Big 12 team.

The top three defenses in the Big 12 will be present in Orlando over the next two contests, as UCF hosts No. 8/6 Iowa State on Saturday at 4 p.m. for the Space Game, followed by No. 1/1 Houston on Wednesday at 7 p.m. According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, Houston entered the night as the nation’s top defensive team while Iowa State was ranked third and UCF sat at No. 10. Both contests will be streamed on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.

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