In the second half of their game against UConn, the UCF men’s basketball team looked unstoppable at times. The team forced turnovers, converted on fast break opportunities and played hard.
But that performance didn’t matter since the Knights played an awful first half and couldn’t dig themselves out of the hole they were in at halftime. UConn went on to win 66-63, and UCF lost for the sixth time in seven games.
“We gotta play for a full 40 minutes, you know, we didn’t do that,” sophomore guard BJ Taylor said. “In conference games like this, we can’t play for the last 10, we gotta put together a full 40 minutes.”
UCF (15-10, 6-7) got off to a very rough start on offense. Within the first four minutes, the Knights had committed four turnovers, missed all five of their shots, and lost sophomore center Tacko Fall to foul trouble after he was called for two offensive fouls.
“Tacko picks up two fouls, you know, right away within 90 seconds and right off the bat that changes our entire game plan,” coach Johnny Dawkins said. “We’re playing around Tacko so he goes out for 18 minutes roughly in the first half, that’s hard.”
Despite the awful start, UCF was still in the game thanks to an equally poor performance from UConn (12-12, 7-5). The Huskies committed several unforced errors, including two travel calls and stepping out of bounds, missing four of their first five shots.
UCF ended up missing its first seven shot attempts of the game, finally getting on the board when forward Tank Efianayi buried a three almost seven minutes into the game. That three seemed to finally get the offense going for the Knights, setting off a 16-5 run to give them a seven point lead midway through the half.
While UCF’s offense picked up, UConn also improved on that end of the floor. The Huskies went on a 13-3 run, hurting the Knights from deep and keeping the game close.
UCF finally got some defensive relief towards the end of the half, when Fall checked back in for the first time since the game’s opening minutes. His defensive presence was immediately felt as he swatted a UConn layup into the crowd on his first defensive possession.
Despite that promising play, UCF just couldn’t contain UConn’s offense. The Huskies took control of the game on both ends of the court, building their lead to 12 at halftime. Going into the second half, the Knights were shooting just 29% from the field, while allowing the Huskies to shoot 43%.
While UCF’s offense was more productive early in the second half, the Knights couldn’t contain the Huskies’ offense, failing to put together a run that could cut into the lead. Midway through the half, UConn had outscored UCF 19-14, building their lead up to 17.
While it looked like the game was pretty much over, UCF suddenly came to life. The Knights forced several turnovers and managed to score off of their fast breaks. After just a couple minutes, UCF was on a 14-2 run and UConn’s lead had been cut to five.
The Knights, however, lost their momentum after Taylor was called for travelling when he slipped with the ball. The Huskies got a basket to stop the run and then hit a three with less than two minutes to go, seemingly putting the game out of reach.
Taylor managed to keep the game alive when he was fouled on a made layup. He buried the free throw to cut the deficit to six with about 50 seconds to go. The Knights then managed to cut the lead to four and get possession with 22 seconds left, but their shot attempt missed badly and they were forced to repeatedly foul UConn.
UCF went on to lose by three. The Knights finished the game shooting 35% from the field, while the Huskies made 44% of their shots and 69% of their three point attempts.
“Our biggest opponent all season has been us with our turnovers and not playing how we can play,” Taylor said. “I think once we get past beating ourselves, we’re gonna do real special things.”
UCF will take on Tulsa at home on Feb. 14.
Christian Simmons is the assistant sports editor for the Central Florida Focus. You can follow him on Twitter at @ByCASimmons and you can email him at @ChristianS@centralfloridafocus.com.