Johnson's Career-High 33 Points Powers Men's Hoops' Win at TCU

by Ken Landis

FORT WORTH, Texas – A career-night for Darius Johnson fueled the UCF men’s basketball team to victory in its regular season finale, beating TCU 79-77 in a game that was tighter than the security detail for the President of the United States. In total, the contest had 17 lead changes and 14 ties.

“When we’re making those shots, we know we can compete and win games like the one today. We haven’t done that consistently. I thought our guys really stepped up and we talked about stepping up and closing out games and we were in position again tonight, and we did that. We were on the road, we had to make plays to close the game and our guys all stepped up. It was a great team effort.”

Johnny DawkinsUCF Men's Basketball Head Coach

Johnson, like The President, was the man in charge on Saturday afternoon, scoring a career-high 33 points and nine rebounds, as well as tying a career-best for made three pointers and free throws. He was a remarkable 9-for-13 from the field, including five-for-six from long range, and a perfect 10-for-10 from the charity stripe.

“His night was special. I mean, not just 33 points but nine rebounds as well in a game where it was big boy basketball underneath that basket. He made a lot of big plays for us. He was just outright terrific and I’m really happy for him and happy for our team.”

Johnny DawkinsUCF Men's Basketball Head Coach

The Knights now boast two road Big 12 wins in the state of Texas, which happens to be the same number of U.S. Presidents that hail from Texas, one of which had the last name Johnson. UCF’s Johnson has now set or tied a career-high four times this season.

The Knights started off hot from the floor, going six-for-eight from the floor including a perfect three-for-three from beyond the arc. Johnson knocked down two of those three-pointers while Jaylin Sellers had the other. Despite the surge to start the contest, UCF found itself down 18-17 at the under 12-minute media timeout.

UCF went on a 7-2 run out of the timeout, building a 25-19 lead. However, a stretch of five straight points brought it back to within one. The Knights again got a triple from Johnson, making it 28-24 with just under seven minutes remaining in the half. The two sides traded buckets before TCU tacked on a 7-0 run to take a 33-30 lead. Johnson scored four of UCF’s next six points, sending the teams into the halftime locker room locked up at 36-36.

Sellers tossed in a layup on the first possession of the second stanza, but six straight points from TCU put them back in front by four. The lead changed hands a few more times before TCU went in front 52-49 with 13:31 to play. The Horned Frogs remained in front until the 4:39 mark, when Sellers cashed in on a tough and-one opportunity to put UCF in the lead at 66-65. From that point on, the deficit for either team got above one possession just once.

A free throw from TCU knotted the game at 66-66, before Sellers hit a fadeaway from the top of the paint to retake the lead. A layup with an and-one the other way briefly put the Horned Frogs back in front, but Sellers again answered the call with 2:38 to play with another jumper from around the top of the painted area, this time via a pretty stepback. Those were the final points of the night for Sellers who finished with 14 points, nine of which came in the second half.

Again, TCU hit a pair of free throws in the bonus as Sellers gently bumped a Horned Frog out of bounds in the corner to go in front 71-70. Sellers made up for it on the next trip down the floor, going to the same spot he had made his previous two looks from, hitting the defender with a shot fake, and snapping a crisp pass to Ibrahima Diallo for a jam at the rim.

Johnson was whistled for his fourth foul via a hold in the paint, leading to two more made free throws by TCU. The Horned Frogs forced a turnover on UCF’s return trip down the floor and were fouled on the fast break, Sellers fifth, sending him to the bench. TCU hit just one of two free throws, making the score 74-72 with 1:14 to go.

Johnson was fouled 10 seconds into UCF’s ensuing possession, as he converted with the pair of free throws on the one-and-one opportunity.

The following trip down the floor saw TCU try to lead its man to the rim on a lob pass, which was swatted away and corralled by Johnson. After a UCF timeout, Johnson drove to the rim through a double team and was fouled. Again, he was true from the charity stripe, putting UCF in front, this time for the final time, at 76-74 with 30 seconds to play.

With 19 seconds to play, TCU airballed a three, leading to another foul that send Johnson to the stripe where he again hit a pair of free throws. The game wasn’t at its end just yet, as the Horned Frogs converted an and-one chance with four seconds to play. Johnson was the guilty party on the foul, his fifth and sending him off.

UCF’s return possession after the and-one sent Antwann Jones to the free throw line. He missed the back end, leaving the Knights clinging to a two-point edge. TCU collected the rebound and burned a timeout. Upon returning to the floor with 2.9 seconds, the Horned Frogs heaved it deep for a completed pass. They even got a shot away in that little amount of time, but it careened high off the backboard and out of harm’s way, giving UCF its third Big 12 road win of the season at 79-77.

The second half alone saw 13 lead changes, including nine ties. UCF led for just 4:09 of that second half but led when it counted most, when the clock hit triple zeros. The Knights shot 54.2% in the final frame of the contest with Johnson accounting for 20 of UCF’s 43 second half points. The Black and Gold converted on 15-of-17 free throws in the second while TCU only hit 12-of-17 down the stretch.

The Knights wrap up their regular season by winning three of their final five games in conference play, including two on the road. UCF, who was picked to finish last in the Big 12 Preseason Coaches Poll, finish the year at 7-11 in conference play. The mark is just one win below the eight wins accumulated in the Knights’ final season their final season in The American. UCF went 7-5 this season against the members of the Big 12 that it joined this past offseason, including three ranked wins, beating No. 3 Kansas, No. 23 Texas Tech and No. 23 Oklahoma.

UCF improves to 1-1 all-time against TCU, with the only meeting prior to Saturday night coming in the 2017 NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden where the Horned Frogs earned a 68-53 win.

The Knights will be the No. 12 seed in the 2024 Phillips 66 Big 12 Conference Championship. They will face 13th-seeded Oklahoma State on Tuesday afternoon for a 12:30 p.m. tip from T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo. The contest will be broadcast on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.

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