Strong defense gives Knights close win at home

UCF Knights' forward Rokas Ulvydas charges to the basket during Wednesday’s 68-65 victory over Gardner-Webb University.

The Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs clawed back into Wednesday’s game from a double-digit deficit, but their comeback fell just three points short as time expired; the buzzer sounded as the ball clanged off the rim and out, giving the Knights a victory of 68-65. 

The UCF Knights (2-0) held the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs (0-3) to only 28 points in the first half, but almost allowed the Bulldogs to come back from 11 down late in the game.

The Knights defeated the Bulldogs at the CFE Arena on UCF’s main campus in front of a crowd of 4,016, according to UCF Athletics’ Official Basketball Box Score.

“I was happy that we were starting to work in the right direction defensively – getting back to UCF defense,” head coach Johnny Dawkins said. “All in all, to hold a team to 28 points in the first half is good defensively.”

But UCF wasn’t as strong defensively in the second half.

With the Knights up by 11 with less than four minutes to go and momentum on their side, it looked like UCF was going to run away with the game.

Then Gardner-Webb responded with a pair of 3-pointers to trim the lead to five points.

When UCF guard A.J. Davis turned the ball over with 40 seconds to go in the game, GardnerWebb guard Liam O’Reilly hit a 3-pointer to narrow the Bulldogs deficit to one.

“I think we just kind of let up defensively,” UCF guard Dayon Griffin said. “I think we just made a couple mistakes and they made us pay for it.”

Chad Brown, UCF’s forward, shot 8-10 from the free throw line during a 68-65 win over the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs.

After UCF guard Terrell Allen hit two critical free throws to make it a 3-point game with 10 seconds left, the Bulldogs were given one last chance.

O’Reilly was once again given the ball at the 3-point line – this time to tie it up as the clock ticked to zero.

The contested shot hit the rim and bounced out as time expired. 

Davis, UCF’s leading scorer, tallied only 15 points, leaving plenty up for grabs.

Four players tallied double-digit points, and seven out of nine players scored for the Knights. Both Chad Brown and Davis tallied double-doubles.

“A.J. [Davis] is our most mature player, and he showed it again tonight,” Dawkins said. “When we really needed plays – when we were building that lead – it was A.J. along with Chad defensively.”

The Knights started the game down two starters and lost a third when Ceasar DeJesus left the game with leg cramps during the second half.

The Knights looked deeper into their roster to find replacements. 

Allen, who replaced the injured B.J. Taylor as point guard, didn’t miss a single shot from the field all night.

Allen also hit two important free throws with 10 seconds remaining to make it a 3-point game.

“I feel like Terrell [Allen] definitely stepped up,” forward Chad Brown said. “He was able to get other guys involved and handle the pressure from the other team.”

UCF guard Dayon Griffin and forward Chad Brown address the media after UCF’s narrow 68-65 win over the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs on Wednesday.

Brown was another player who stepped up for the injury-riddled Knights. 

He brought a physical presence off the bench UCF needed without its injured 7-foot-6 star center Tacko Fall. 

Brown drew five fouls on his way to 10 points, shooting 8-10 from the free-throw line, and recorded five blocks on the night.

“He’s really been doing good at protecting our rim,” Dawkins said. “I thought our guys did a great job of understanding where they should be defensively. They want to protect our basket”

The Knights will look to start the season 3-0 at the next game against the College of William & Mary at the CFE Arena on Saturday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m.