ORLANDO, Fla. — For the first time in a month, UCF superstar B.J. Taylor was back on the court.
No surprise, the Knights won. Though, it was anything but pretty.
Taylor, with a taped up right hand, scored 19 points in a 48-45 win over East Carolina. Pirates’ guard B.J. Tyson missed a game-tying three-pointer at the horn.
“He picked a great night to have one of his best performances,” UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said of Taylor. “He stepped up for us.”
A game after UCF held the Temple Owls to two points in the first 8 minutes, the Knights had the tables turned on them.
In the opening 8 minutes, Dawkins’ squad was 0-of-6 from the field with 5 turnovers. Additionally, UCF was trailing 7-1. But, not for long.
The Knights, spurred by a Taylor “and-one,” started their offensive motor and sped on a 19-2 run. The homegrown product was in the driver’s seat, scoring 8 points during the 8-minute segment.
To complement the offensive outburst, the Knights’ defense increased their intensity and returned the favor. Over the aforementioned time span, UCF limited East Carolina to one made field goal and led 20-9.
After possessing a 23-15 advantage at halftime, the Knights slowly charged to a game-high 17-point edge. Chad Brown, who scored 9 of his 11 points in the 2nd half, was the catalyst.
At the six-minute mark, UCF appeared in route to a stressless win. However, the Pirates came sailing back.
Kentrell Barkley, who struggled shooting for the majority of Tuesday’s contest, nailed three triples, outscoring the Knights, 9-1. B.J. Tyson also contributed, netting four points, to co-captain East Carolina within a single possession with 1:25 remaining in regulation.
As the Pirates rallied, UCF failed to make a field goal.
Or, that was until Taylor made his only three-pointer of the game.
“The three [pointer] he hit down the stretch was huge for us,” noted Dawkins.
Although the Knights made 5-of-6 free throws in the final 23 seconds, the Pirates’ Tyson attempted a three-pointer to tie.
It rimmed out.
Combining for 29 points, Kentrell Barkley and B.J. Tyson were the primary scorers for East Carolina. Neither shot efficiently — Barkley was 6-of-19 while Tyson made 5-of-16. The Pirates finished at 26.8% from the field (UCF shot 26.1%).
On an evening that Tacko Fall was held scoreless and missed all six field goal attempts, B.J. Taylor returned to Orlando like Superman. The Knights’ leading scorer was 4-of-10 from the floor and made a career-high 10 free throws in a 19-point, 4-rebound performance.
“I wasn’t sure if he was gonna be able to play as many minutes as he played tonight,” Dawkins said of Taylor. “He had showed that he was prepared [for 33 minutes].”
Sophomore Chad Brown was equally instrumental in the victory. The Deltona High School product was a “point per minute player,” netting 11 points in 11 minutes. The 6’9″ forward is averaging 11 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in the last four contests and is becoming a young force for the Knights.
Matt Williams scored 13 points for UCF.
Following a conference-opening win versus South Florida, 9-7 (1-2) East Carolina has dropped two straight. On a positive note, however, they were much more competitive tonight than versus SMU on December 31. The Pirates travel to Philadelphia to face Temple on Saturday.
With B.J. Taylor back, 12-3 (3-0) UCF is now 7-1 with its point guard in the lineup. His return comes at the most opportune time as the Knights travel to Connecticut for a Sunday matinee. Despite the Huskies appearing down and out, this is the first real road test for UCF.
– P. Wesner