Men's Hoops Topped by No. 1 Houston on Senior Knight

by Ken Landis

ORLANDO – The UCF men’s basketball team was defeated by No. 1 Houston on Senior Knight 67-59. The contest represented the first time in program history that the Knights hosted a No. 1 team and the fourth time facing off against a top-ranked foe.

“I thought our guys fought hard and gave a great effort. But we came up short. Coming down the stretch, they were able to make the plays they needed to make, and we just have to be better in that area.”

Johnny DawkinsUCF Men's Basketball Head Coach

Seniors Ibrahima Diallo and C.J. Walker got the Knights started with Diallo winning the tip and Walker shoveling home a layup in the first 20 seconds. An energized UCF crowd made its presence felt early, turning up the volume even higher as Jaylin Sellers was fouled from three-point land. Sellers made two of three from the charity stripe and then made a fast-break layup with an assist from Shemarri Allen to put the Knights up 6-0 early.

Houston didn’t earn its first points until 2:45 had passed. The Cougars pulled within one at 9-8 and 11-10, but the Knights continued to distance themselves early. A Diallo layup and Darius Johnson jumper extended it to 15-10. A pair of Johnson triples made it 21-14 with 7:52 to play in the half. Houston once again pulled within one at 27-26 and 29-28, but UCF continued to stave off the Cougar surge. UCF finished the half leading wire-to-wire over the No. 1 team in the land, going into the break up 31-28.

The Black and Gold shot 50% from the floor in the first half while holding Houston to 37.5% from the field and a 2-for-11 clip from three-point range. Johnson led tallied a team-high 10 points in the first.

The Knights started the second half on defense with an in-sync floor slap second and proceeded to get four consecutive stops while making their first two attempts, taking a 35-28 lead a minute into the frame.

Despite the woeful three-point shooting form Houston in the first, the Cougars were able to turn it on from downtown in the second, going 6-for-13 for a 46.2% clip.

Houston used a pair of triples to get itself back in the contest as an Emanuel Sharp three-ball cut the UCF lead to one again at 39-38. The Cougars tied the contest just two minutes later on back-to-back dunks by Ja’Vier Francis at 42-42 with 12:40 to play. Jamal Shead banged home a triple 39 seconds later to give Houston its first edge of the contest, causing the only lead change of the night.

A C.J. Walker three-pointer brough UCF back to within one at 47-46 with 10:39 to go, but that was the closest the Black and Gold came to jumping back into the lead. LJ Cryer and Shead put together an 8-0 run over a four-minute span to go up 55-46. The Knights slashed the lead back to five with a Thierno Sylla putback dunk and a pair of Allen free throws, but once again, a timely three-pointer from Cryer stuffed the Knights back down eight again. UCF tried to hang tough with the Cougars, decreasing the deficit to four with 1:36 to play at 63-59, but were answered immediately with another timely Cryer basket, making a tough jumper to go up six.

The final horn sounded on a 67-59 UCF loss, one in which they shot 45.5% against the No. 1 defense in the nation. However, the Black and Gold turned the ball over 18 times to Houston’s 10, propelling the Cougars to a 22-4 edge in points off turnovers.

The Knights outrebounded Houston 32-31, but offensive rebounds came to the Cougars’ aid, earning a 16-10 edge on the offensive glass leading to a 20-10 advantage in second chance points.

Houston struggled mightily at shooting free throws in the second half, going 7-for-16 in front of the palm frond-filled student section. The nine misses are the most by an opponent at that end of the floor in Big 12 play this season. Opponents have let the fear of the fronds gets the best of them a total of 40 times this season in league action.

Walker led the Knights in scoring on his senior night, earning a season-high 15 points with a season-high two steals as well as three rebounds. Close behind was Johnson with 14 points and a pair of thefts, as well as Sellers who had a dozen points on the evening.

Wednesday’s contest was the first time in program history that UCF hosted a No. 1 team in Orlando and the fourth overall meeting of a top-ranked team. The most recent occurrence before the contest against Houston was UCF’s meeting with Duke in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. The other two meetings were at No. 1 Memphis in 2008 and in the NCAA Tournament against UMass in 1996. All ended in losses by the Blak and Gold.

The Knights are back in action for their final regular season game of their inaugural run in the Big 12 Conference as they visit TCU for a 5 p.m. ET tip on Saturday from Fort Worth, Texas.

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