It was a tale of two halves for UCF men’s basketball Wednesday night at Addition Financial Arena, as the Knights defeated Bethune-Cookman University 70-65 in a comeback victory.
The Knights (9-2) extended its win streak to six games.
“It was a rough first half but we’ve had rough first halves before so we knew how to bounce back from it,” said UCF redshirt junior guard Ceasar DeJesus.
Bethune-Cookman (5-7) was hot from beyond the arc in the first half, shooting 55.6% on three-pointers while also shooting 71.4% from the free-throw line. Bethune-Cookman scored 14 points off of UCF’s 11 first-half turnovers.
UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said he was not pleased with the amount of turnovers his team had in the first half.
“I thought we were too loose with the ball, a little careless,” Dawkins said. “I’m not sure in the first half or the second half, but I thought more in the first half we were a little too careless with the basketball. They take advantage of that, they’re a very quick team."
"They’re undersized, so they’re all over the place and I think that played a large part in why we turned the ball over.”
Dawkins said the 17 turnovers that UCF had on the night was the most glaring problem on the stat sheet. A close second could be the 12.5% UCF shot from the three-point line.
Because a lot of UCF’s three-point attempts were not falling in the first half, the Knights worked a lot of their offense from inside the paint.
UCF redshirt junior forward Collin Smith ended up in foul trouble early in the game. Smith’s first foul of the night came with 18:59 on the clock and his second with 14:04 left in the first half.
Smith’s presence was missed in the first half as Bethune-Cookman ended the half with a 13-point lead over the Knights.
“Just his presence down low,” DeJesus said when talking about what his team misses when Smith is on the bench. “When he gets out the game, it’s like a rough thing because he is our best player. So when he gets out the game, we just got to find some way to just fill in that presence.”
The first half ended with UCF trailing 21-34.
Bethune-Cookman senior guard Isaiah Bailey led his team in scoring in the first half with 16 points, while his teammate senior guard Malik Maitland had eight points.
“It’s censored information, what was said back there but it was enough to wake us up coming into the second half,” Smith said in reference to Dawkins’ locker room talk at halftime.
The Knights came into the second half hitting 14 of their last 19 shots and continued to shoot well. They also defended the perimeter better, holding Bethune-Cookman to 16.7% from the three-point line.
After a scoring run of seven points with 16:37 on the clock, UCF never looked back. Orlando’s hometown team gained their first lead of the game with 8:47 minutes left in the game off of two free throws from UCF redshirt senior guard Dazon Ingram.
The physical play continued in the second half as three Bethune-Cookman players fouled out trying to contain UCF’s offensive output. Bethune-Cookman’s senior forward Cletrell Pope, senior guard Houston Smith and senior guard Wali Parks all fouled out with five fouls each.
“Well it ended up getting us to the free-throw line at the end of the game and helped us ice the game,” Smith said. “So, that was nice. But you know those guys when the shot goes up they’re coming down, they’re trying to hold boards and they’re pretty good at that.”
The Knights (9-2) will travel to Norman, Oklahoma to face the Oklahoma Sooners (7-3) on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Lloyd Noble Center.