ORLANDO, Fla. — Year one of the Johnny Dawkins era has had its highs and lows for the UCF Knights (8-3).
Entering Sunday, the team was stuck in a lull that included a home loss to Penn and a road defeat at George Washington. During the losing streak, UCF averaged just 54 points per game, 17.5 less than their mark during the first eight contests.
Today, the Knights marched out of the precipice.
Led by a career-high 31 points from sophomore Tacko Fall, UCF fended off Miami (OH) (5-6), 80-73, in overtime.
“It was a win we had to earn,” said UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins. “Our guys showed a lot of character. It was a game that could have gone either way. I give their team a lot of credit.”
The Knights landed the first run, a 15-5 spurt to start the game. A combined 13 points from Fall and Tank Efianayi pushed Dawkins’ squad ahead to a double-digit lead.
A.J. Davis, starting at point guard for the injured B.J. Taylor, soon caught the rhythm, nailing a triple to extend the lead to a game-high 13 points. The redshirt junior was active in the opening eight minutes, posting five points, four rebounds, four assists, and a block.
As all signs pointed towards the Knights putting the game away early, the Redhawks soon went on a run of their own.
A Marcus Weathers three-pointer at the 8:55 mark spurred a 20-6 stretch which gave Miami (OH) a 32-31 advantage. With Redhawks leading scorer Michael Weathers off the floor with two fouls, his brother and Abdoulaye Harouna assumed the scoring responsibility by netting five points apiece.
While Miami (OH) seized the lead, the Knights’ offense was stagnant. UCF failed to make a field goal in the five-minute stretch until Efianayi ended the drought with a jumper. Fall took the scoring baton, producing eight consecutive Knights points to supply a six-point halftime lead, 40-34.
Fall stepped onto the court after halftime just eight points away from his career-high. By the 14-minute mark, he already surpassed it.
“I thought Tacko was terrific,” said Dawkins of his seven-foot, six-inch center. “Defensively, he had a presence. Offensively, he really anchored us as well. He is just getting better. He is getting better right before all of our eyes.”
Fall, with dunks, layups, and an efficient afternoon from the charity stripe, was trading baskets with the Redhawks. Yet, the mid-major from the MAC never wavered.
Despite trailing by nine with under seven minutes remaining, Miami (OH) slowly chipped away at the deficit and ultimately tied the score at 66 on a Rod Mills jump shot with 36 seconds remaining in regulation. The Knights and Redhawks failed to capitalize on their final opportunities, sending the contest to overtime.
Similar to the start of the first half, UCF charged ahead. Matt Williams had five of his 15 points to begin the session before Fall chipped in two more.
Although Miami (OH) pulled within two points with one minute remaining, the Knights made seven-of-eight free throws down the stretch. The losing streak was over in Orlando.
“We told ourselves, ‘Are we going to lock in or lose this game?'” said Efianayi. “We started [playing well] on defense.”
Because of foul trouble, Miami (OH) freshman sensation Michael Weathers was held below his season scoring average of 20 points per game. The Kansas native had 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Marcus Weathers and Rod Mills both had 13 points apiece while Logan McLane recorded eight points and seven rebounds.
Fall’s 31-point, 10-rebound performance was his sixth double-double of the season. He raised his NCAA Division I leading 81.6% field goal percentage by making 11-of-12 attempts and increased his season streak of at least one block per game to 11 contests.
“I felt great,” Fall said. “The guys were feeding me the ball, and we were playing together. We were playing good basketball.”
The Knights’ backcourt of Williams, Efianayi, and Davis made their presence felt on Sunday. Williams posted a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds; Efianayi had 14 points and nine rebounds; and Davis finished with nine points, five rebounds, and six assists.
Unfortunately, when B.J. Taylor will return to the aforementioned backcourt is still in question.
“I still have no timetable for B.J. All I am doing is taking it one day at a time,” stated Dawkins. “His surgery went well and everything went well. So all that’s great. Now we will have to wait until the trainers and the doctors give us the okay.”
Miami (OH) will travel north to host Tennessee Tech before starting conference play against Northern Illinois.
UCF will finish a two-game homestand on Wednesday with Bethune-Cookman.