ORLANDO, Fla. — Year one of the Johnny Dawkins’ era has had its highs and lows for the UCF Knights.
Entering Sunday, the team was stuck in a deep valley 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 pesky Miami (OH), 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 Tacko Fall and Tank Efianayi charged 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 of his teammates, nailing a triple to extend the lead to a game-high 13. The redshirt junior had 5 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and a block within the first eight minutes.
As all signs pointed towards the Knights putting the game away early, the Redhawks soon flew 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 scoring 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 slump with a jumper.
Fall proceeded to take the scoring baton, resulting in eight consecutive Knights’ points and a six-point halftime lead, 40-34.
Tacko 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 footer. “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, through dunks, layups, and an efficient afternoon from the charity stripe, was single-handedly trading baskets with the Redhawks. Yet, the mid-major from the MAC never went away.
Despite trailing by nine with less than seven minutes remaining, Miami (OH) refused to wilt.
UCF had another silent stretch, which, this time, lasted for more than seven minutes. During the span, 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 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 to begin the session before Fall chipped in two more.
Although Miami (OH) pulled within two with one minute remaining, seven Knights’ made free throws in eight attempts were too much to overcome.
The losing streak was over in Orlando.
“We told ourselves, ‘Are we going to lock in or lose this game?'” said Tank Efianayi. “We started [playing] on defense.”
Because of foul trouble, Miami’s (OH) freshman sensation Michael Weathers was held below his season scoring average of 20. The Kansas native scored 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting. Marcus Weathers and Rod Mills both had 13 points apiece while Logan McLane recorded 8 points and 7 rebounds.
Tacko Fall’s 31-point, 10-rebound performance was his sixth double-double of the season. He raised his NCAA Division 1 leading 81.6% field goal percentage (coming into the day) by making 11-of-12 attempts and increased his season streak of at least one block per game to 11.
“I felt great,” Fall said of his performance. “The guys were feeding me the ball and we were playing together. We were playing good basketball.”
The Knights’ backcourt of Matt Williams, Tank Efianayi, and A.J. Davis stuffed the statsheet again on Sunday. Williams posted a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds; Efianayi had 14 points and 9 rebounds; Davis finished with 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 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.”
5-6 Miami (OH) will travel back north to host Tennessee Tech before starting conference play versus Northern Illinois.
8-3 UCF will finish a two-game homestand on Wednesday against Bethune-Cookman. College Court Report will supply full coverage from Orlando.