On Wednesday's South Floridian Knight at CFE Arena, senior center Tacko Fall and UCF’s defense brought the heat in a dominant 78-65 victory over rival South Florida.
The Knights held the Bulls to a 36.8 percent shooting mark and created 19 points off 10 turnovers, but Fall was the difference-maker in the season's first installment of the War on I-4 rivalry series.
“I can disrupt a lot on that [defensive] side of the court with just my presence,” Fall said. “That’s my job and I take pride in it.”
The Bulls had no answer for the 7-foot-6 powerhouse. Fall had 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks through the first 11 minutes of action. The block party continued in the second half as Fall finished with five.
Fall finished just short of a double-double, putting up a game-high 21 points and nine rebounds.
“He played 26 minutes, I thought this was the most assertive 26 minutes he has played since I coached him here, meaning that I felt his presence throughout the entire time he was out there on the floor,” UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said.
Dawkins is making defense a priority for his team and it shows, as the Knights have held opponents to a combined 38.1 percent from the field over the last two seasons, according to UCF Athletics.
South Florida was overmatched from the tipoff, as UCF led the entire game. The Knights' biggest lead was 26 points, coming midway through the second half.
The Knights struggled at the free throw line, going 21-for-37 as a team. Fall himself missed 12 of his 21 free throws, but UCF still dominated despite leaving 16 points on the board. Coach Dawkins had an optimistic outlook after the game on Fall’s woes from the line.
“He’s getting close; he’s getting better with his free throw shooting,” Dawkins said.
With the win, UCF improved to 18-5 overall and 8-3 in American Athletic Conference play, the team’s best start since joining the league. The Bulls fell to 17-7 overall and 7-5 in conference play with the loss. The win was also the Knights' seventh straight against the Bulls.
The Knights will host the Memphis Tigers for a rematch on Saturday at CFE Arena after losing by 20 points in their last matchup on Jan. 27. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.