UCF’s (16-10, 7-7) pesky defense and balanced scoring attack allowed the Knights to orchestrate a late run, resulting in a 71-53 run away victory at home over Tulsa (12-13, 6-7) in front of an announced crowd of 3,528.
Coming out of halftime, the Knights led the Golden Hurricanes by five, but thanks to a barrage of made jump shots and lockdown defense by redshirt senior forward Nick Banyard and redshirt junior forward A.J. Davis, they once again pushed their lead to 10.
The two 6-foot-9 forwards combined for 34 points and 20 rebounds which provided a consistent balance that proved to create problems for the defense. And the Knights once again suffocated their opponent’s offensive structure. The team held the Golden Hurricanes to 30 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent from the three point line.
“Everything that we do is going to feed off of defense,” Davis said. “Offense, you’re going to be on some nights, you’re going to be off some nights, but you can play defense every night and we know that.”
But on a night when UCF recognized its baseball team, sophomore point guard B.J. Taylor played the role of closer. With seven minutes remaining, Taylor scored 12 of his 15 points, including a rainbow triple at the top of the key to put the game out of reach for good.
“We want him to be aggressive; he’s a scoring guard, but we want him to pick his spots,” head coach Johnny Dawkins said. “At the end of the game he’s going to have the ball in his hand.”
UCF hopped out to an early 12 point lead led by Banyard and redshirt senior guard Matt Williams’ sharp shooting. The senior tandem scored a combined 18 points in the first half shooting 4-for7 from deep.
“Matt [Williams] tells me every game to shoot the ball,” Banyard said. “The ball comes from him most the time whenever I do hit a three, but he definitely has the most confidence in me on the team along with A.J. [Davis].”
The Knights defense was stout, holding the Golden Hurricanes to just 33 percent from the field, but thanks to a 15-7 run by Tulsa to close the quarter, they were able to climb within arm’s reach of tying the game for the first time since the game was knotted up 5-5. As a result, UCF watched its double digit lead cut to five by halftime, 31-27.
“They [Tulsa] pressed; they were competing [and] I think our guys were able to find a way to execute well,” Dawkins said.
UCF will look to keep the ball rolling as they hit road versus East Carolina on Saturday Feb. 28 on the road at 4 p.m.
Christopher Davis is a contributor for the Central Florida Focus. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChristopherDTV and can email the sports department at EvanA@centralfloridafocus.com.