Men's Hoops Hosts No. 1 Houston for Senior Knight

by Ken Landis
UCF Game Notes Houston Game Notes Big 12 Conference Notes

ORLANDO – The UCF men’s basketball team is set to host No. 1 Houston for a 7 p.m. tip on Wednesday in the final home game of the regular season. Five members of the Black and Gold will be celebrated for Senior Knight prior to the contest.

Shemarri Allen, Ibrahima Diallo, Antwann Jones, Omar Payne and C.J. Walker will be recognized prior to UCF’s tilt with top-ranked Houston. Walker has been with the Knights for four seasons while the other four are newcomers this season. All have played a key role in getting the Black and Gold to where they are this season, contributing a combined average of 29.7 points and 20.4 rebounds per game.

Wednesday’s contest will be the first time UCF has hosted a No. 1 team and will be just the third time in program history facing the top team in the land. Knight Nation remembers the last time the squad faced a No. 1 team, falling by a single point with a 77-76 final in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament to Duke, who had Zion Williamson at the time. The first occurrence of facing a No. 1 team was back on Feb. 9, 2008, at Memphis where the Knights suffered a 21-point defeat.

This year’s squad resembles that NCAA Tournament team that went toe-to-toe with Duke back in 2019. The 2023-24 UCF team has averaged 2.42 more forced turnovers, 3.2 steals and 0.6 blocks per game better than that 2018-19 group. On the flip side, the 2018-19 team held opponents to 2.1 less points per game as well as a 1.3% lower clip from the field than this year’s roster has.

UCF’s defense still continues to rank highly with just two games to go in the regular season. The Knights held Iowa State to 60 points, a number that normally gives the Black and Gold a solid chance at a win. UCF dropped to a still extremely impressive 74-9 when holding opponents to 60 points or less under head coach Johnny Dawkins. However, the Knights are 0-6 this season when scoring less than 60 points themselves after posting 52 on Saturday. On the flipside, UCF is 7-1 when holding its foes under 60. The Black and Gold led by a point against Iowa State with five minutes to go in the team’s last contest, going 13-0 this season when holding a lead at that time. However, UCF went without a field goal over that stretch, falling by eight, the seventh single-digit loss of its Big 12 campaign.

The Knights, who pride themselves on defense, will be met with another side with a top-tier defense for the second straight game. The Cyclones’ defense ranked No. 2 in the country when UCF squared off with them and are now met with Houston’s No. 1 defense. The Cougars rank No. 1 nationally in scoring defense, surrendering just 57.2 points per game. They rank No. 2 in the country in opponent field goal percentage with a 38.3% mark, No. 3 in scoring margin at +17.2, No. 4 in turnovers per game at 8.6 and No. 6 in steals per game with 10.3.

Houston has been led by LJ Cryer, Jamal Shead and Emanuel Sharp, all who have scored over a dozen points per game. Cryer leads the team in scoring at 15.5 points per game and shoots a team-best 38.8% from beyond the arc. Shead has snagged 67 steals and adds 15 blocks to the Cougars’ total, all while averaging 13.1 points a contest. Sharp also is one to nab some steals, tallying the second most on the team at 45 while averaging 12.7 points per game.

The Knights will be looking to snap an eight-game skid against Houston, with their last win over the Cougars coming back on Mar. 2, 2019. UCF beat a No. 6-ranked Houston squad that day, spoiling an afternoon in which College Gameday was on the Cougars’ campus.