As the second free throw fell through the basket, UCF redshirt junior forward Collin Smith clinched the UCF Knights' third victory of the season.
UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins stood up from the sidelines and threw his hands in jubilation while the noise of the home crowd rang through Addition Financial Arena.
Smith’s two points from the free-throw line in the last 13 seconds of the game sealed the Knights' 72-71 victory over the Charleston Cougars (3-2) Saturday afternoon at Addition Financial Arena.
“It’s just a regular free throw for me,” Smith said when asked what was going through his mind when he was at the line. “I think I shot the ball pretty well from the line today and I just kept remembering what I did in those last shots and kept the form."
The Knights (3-1) were coming into the game off a road win against the Illinois State Redbirds (2-3), where Orlando’s hometown team came back from a nine-point deficit to beat the Redbirds 67-65.
“They have big hearts, that’s the thing I’ve taken away from all of our games," Dawkins said. "We’ve been down pretty much in all of our games. We’ve found a way to win a number of them and I think that’s because the size of our guys' hearts.”
After leading as much as 20-9 against UCF with 13:40 on the clock, Charleston continued to dominate. It was not until UCF, with a series of defensive stops and points in the paint, cut the lead down to six with 6:52 left in the first half.
UCF kept its offensive run going and ended the half down 37-36.
Charleston shot 7-of-17 from three-point range and UCF struggled to contain Charleston’s main scoring threat, 6-foot-3 senior guard Grant Riller.
An Orlando, Florida, native himself, Riller finished with 14 points in the first half. Riller was averaging 21.8 points and 4.5 assists per game coming into the match.
“He’s such a good player,” Dawkins said. “He can score, he can pass.”
Riller only had six points in the second half, with UCF redshirt freshman guard Dre Fuller Jr. guarding him.
“We kind of gave him that matchup in the second half,” Dawkins said. “He asked for it, and I thought he delivered. I thought he guarded him fairly well.”
It was also a game of two halves defensively for UCF. Dawkins said his team still needs to improve defensively but he thought they were more locked in on defense in the second half.
“I thought the last second half of the first half, I thought we were much better,” Dawkins said. “We started to find our rhythm, we started to get some stops, but we gave them too much confidence early and they're good of a team like that. When they see the ball going in like they did, they're off to the races.”
Taking charge of the game offensively, Smith scored a game-high 23 points. He also grabbed eight rebounds and went 9-of-10 from the free-throw line.
“He wanted the basketball," Dawkins said. "He did a great job of staying aggressive. He got to the line a number of times because of his physicality and that’s who he is. He’s a very skilled big man and I think you saw his versatility today.”
The Knights will look for their third straight victory when they travel to Anaheim, California, to face the University of Pennsylvania Quakers (3-2) on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at Anaheim Arena in the first round of the Wooden Legacy tournament.
UCF will face either the Arizona Wildcats (5-0) or the Pepperdine Waves (3-3) in the second round. Arizona is ranked No. 14 in The AP Top 25 Poll.