After two straight missed opportunities at the free throw line by UCF late in the game, Colorado cut the deficit to three with under 20 seconds left with possession of the ball. But with last second coverage on Colorado’s senior guard Derrick White at the three point line, UCF was able to force a miss, escaping with a 79-74 NIT first round victory over Colorado in front of an announced crowd of 3,675.
“There’s only going to be a handful of teams that end this season with a win—we got a chance to finish this season off with a championship,” redshirt sophomore guard B.J. Taylor said. “Like coach says, ‘they’re keeping time and score; we’re going to compete’.”
The Knights competed hard, seeming to pull away, but after shooting 17-for-32 from the line for the game, it became closer than it appeared in the middle of the second half when UCF was up 13. And the Knights collective blunders at the line seemed to gloss over the second half takeover put on by Taylor.
“I’m confident regardless of what happens the play before in any play,” Taylor said referring to his two late free throw misses. “I know I missed the two before, but I figured I’d make the next two.”
Taylor got popped in the eye in the first half and he was visibly bothered by it. But with 10 minutes remaining in the game, Taylor began cooking, proceeding to score the Knights next 18 points. Taylor scored 21 of his team-high 26 points in the second half while shooting 7-for-13 from the field and 5-for-8 from three for the game.
“I think he’s doing what we talked about and that’s picking his spots better,” coach Johnny Dawkins said. “He’s a tenacious point guard and he wants to compete and he wants to score the basketball, but by playing the game and letting the game come to him, you still have the energy and wherewithal to make plays like that.”
Four different UCF players scored in double figures, including redshirt junior forward A.J. Davis who, on his birthday, scored 17 points, grabbed eight rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes of playing time.
In the first ten minutes of play, all five UCF starters registered a point on the scoreboard, giving the Knights a 20-11 early lead versus Colorado. The Knights shot 62-percent from the field and they went 6-for-10 from deep; led by the sharpshooting of redshirt senior guard Matt Williams.
At one point, Williams matched the Buffalos scoring total single handedly with 13 points. On one play, Williams had a man draped on his hip and after bobbling the ball, he elevated and knocked down the tough jumper. The very next possession, he walked into a heat check triple, knocking down his third of the half.
The Knights led by as many as 12 with 9:21 remaining in the half, but the Buffaloes rallied with a 9-2 run thanks to seven points off UCF turnovers. Colorado cut the lead to four after a buzzer beating triple by Colorado’s junior guard Dominique Collier to end the half with UCF leading 38-34.
UCF will look to keep their season alive as they will face the winner of No. 1 seeded Illinois State and No. 8 seeded UC Irvine on Monday.
Christopher Davis is a contributor for the Central Florida Focus. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChristopherDTV and you can email the sports team at EvanA@Centralfloridafocus.com.