After starting the season with four consecutive wins, the UCF Knights dropped three in a row and lost their first at home game against the University of Missouri Tigers on Thursday night.
The first-ever matchup between the UCF Knights (4-3) and the Tigers (6-2) ended 62-59 in Mizzou’s favor in front of an announced crowd of 5,122 at the CFE Arena on UCF’s main campus.
“It sucks to lose at home,” UCF forward A.J. Davis said after the game. “We’re on a little losing streak so [we’re] just trying to get out of this funk and get a win together.”
The Knights found themselves in a hole when Mizzou’s forward Jeremiah Tilmon gave the Tigers an 11-point lead with seven minutes remaining.
A fake shot from Mizzou guard Terrence Phillips fooled UCF center Tacko Fall into lunging for a block under the basket. Phillips then passed the ball around the leaping 7-foot-6 Knight into the hands of Mizzou forward Jeremiah Tilmon who slammed it home.
However, the Knights charged back to find themselves in a tight game at the end.
With less than three minutes remaining, UCF’s leading scorer of the year, Davis, brought the Knights two points away from tying it up.
Davis grabbed a rebound to start an offensive sequence that ended with him driving to the hoop for a layup. He was fouled and completed the 3-point play to bring the Knights within striking distance with two and a half minutes remaining.
“They’re always gonna fight,” UCF Knights Head Coach Johnny Dawkins said. “They’re gonna compete and give us a chance to win. I think our guys are really good competitors.”
Phillips made two late-game buckets — his only of the day — to give Mizzou a cushion after the Knights came roaring back.
After Davis brought UCF two points away from a tie, Phillips banked a heavily contested 3-point shot off the backboard to give the Tigers a five-point lead.
Although UCF responded with two points from free throws, Phillips sunk another jumper the next possession, making the score 59-54 with 51 seconds left.
“I thought their 3-point shooting from their perimeter guys was really outstanding,” Dawkins said. “That kind of gave them the edge they needed down the stretch. Guys made some tough shots, and that’s what you have to do to win a game like this.”
But there was still time for the Knights.
With only 36 seconds remaining, they pulled the game to within two points once again.
UCF guard Dayon Griffin sent a Mizzou defender lunging for a block with a fake shot from 3-point range. After he spun around the defender, he found Davis who sank a three, clawing the Knights back into the game.
However, the Knights couldn’t complete their comeback, and the game all but ended when Griffin’s shot was blocked with 10 seconds remaining.
When UCF forward Chad Brown and guard Griffin stepped onto the court together, they made an immediate impact. In their first appearance off the bench, Brown, who had been on the court for less than a minute, stole the ball from the Tigers. Then, Griffin nailed a three to give the Knights a seven-point lead in the first half.
Brown and Griffin made waves again when sent in together in the second half. In less than three minutes, the two came off the bench to combine for two rebounds, four points and an assist from Griffin to Brown.
“Those guys are coming into the game with an opportunity having watched a lot of the game,” Dawkins said. “They have a feel for what’s going on out there, and I thought they both gave us good energy and they both made solid basketball plays.”
Fall, who is still being eased back into action after a hip injury, logged 27 minutes on the night and shot six for seven from the field, notching 12 points. His one miss was on a breakaway dunk that clanged off the rim.
“Overall, I feel like I’m trying to get back in shape,” Fall said. “I’m definitely not where I want to be, but I’m getting there.”
The Knights will look to bounce back against the 24th ranked Alabama Crimson Tide at 2 p.m. on Dec. 3 at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
“We have to keep grinding,” Dawkins said. “As disappointed as we are as a team and as a program — because we like to win — but there are things we have to do better for that to happen, and I think we’re having to learn those now during this stretch.”