UCF men’s basketball lost the War on I-4 matchup versus the University of South Florida Bulls for the first time since January 2016 in Tampa on Saturday night.
The Knights produced their worst offensive performance of the season, finishing with a season-low 48 points compared to the Bulls 64. UCF (11-10, 2-7) shot 9% from three-point range, only converting on two of their 22 attempts.
"It felt like it was probably the low point of the season offensively,” UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said. "We know we can shoot better and we have to shoot better."
USF (10-12, 3-6) got its edge early in the game, scoring seven points on one possession. With the scor tied at 10 with just over 12 minutes remaining in the first half, USF junior forward Justin Brown made a three-point basket as his teammate, senior forward Antun Maricevic, was elbowed to the ground. Officials determined it was a flagrant 1 foul on UCF redshirt junior forward Collin Smith on the elbow, giving USF two free throws and the ball back.
Maricevic made one of his two free-throws, giving the Bulls a four-point lead. On the extra possession, Brown was fouled on a three-point jump-shot. After hitting all three free-throws, the Bulls ran with the momentum, heading into halftime with a 38-22 advantage.
"We controlled the pace of the game and kept attacking the gaps," said USF redshirt senior guard Laquincy Rideau. "That’s what we didn’t do in the first game, so they controlled the pace."
Smith said he felt that he may have been able to contribute more for the Knights in his first-half efforts, finishing the half with only one point.
"Offensively I was a passive in the first half," Smith said. "I should have been more aggressive in the post."
UCF came out of the half in a new defense, switching to a 1-3-1 zone defense. USF struggled scoring the ball due to the adjustment, not making a field goal for the first 8 minutes of the half.
Dawkins also played a five-guard set, which put redshirt senior guard Dazon Ingram guarding the center position. UCF first played this player combination late in the game at Wichita State on Jan. 25.
"I play a different combination of guys looking for a spark," Dawkins said. “In this type environment and game, it’s hard to ask of a lot of guys."
With 12:30 remaining in the half, the Knights were able to cut the deficit to ten points; however, they were unable to get within single digits.
USF head coach Brian Gregory felt that it was the Bulls’ defense that prevented UCF from making a comeback.
"Our offense got a little tentative in the second half," Gregory said. "Our defense never faltered and we were able to get stop after stop after stop."
The Bulls found their offensive groove once again in the second half and outscored the Knights 24-18 in the final 11 minutes of the game. Brown contributed off the bench, scoring 14 points with three three-pointers and a team-high eight rebounds. Sharing the top scoring spot with Brown was Rideau, who also finished with 14.
For UCF, Smith scored 12 points on 4-6 shooting and was the only Knight who finished in double-digit scoring. This is the first time this season with only one Knight scoring in double figures.
"Our downfall this entire year has been our offense,” Smith said. "Once we get our offense together then we’ll be a team to compete with."
The Bulls were without their leading rebounder, sophomore forward Michael Durr, who averages about six rebounds per game. Durr is suffering from a bruised knee and his presence on Saturday night was a game-time decision. Despite his absence, the Bulls were still able to out-rebound the Knights 36-31.
The Knights will look to bounce back from the loss on Thursday, as they travel to face the East Carolina University Pirates at 7 p.m. at Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum in Greenville, North Carolina.