UCF Easily Defends Home Court Against Tulsa, 71-53
With a 71-53 home victory over visiting Tulsa on Tuesday night, the UCF men's basketball team earned its seventh American Athletic Conference win of the season, the most in program history since the league's 2013 inception.
"I think our guys played one of their best games of the year," UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said after the game. "We were as efficient as we've been [all season] against a good Tulsa team. Our guys found ways to execute well and make shots. It was really good to see them share the ball the way they did."
The Knights improved to 16-10 overall and 7-7 in league play with the win. The 16 victories are the most for UCF since going 20-11 in 2012-13, the program's final season in Conference USA. The seven conference wins top the previous best for AAC wins, a 6-12 campaign last year.
At 7-7, the Knights leap frogged Tulsa (12-13, 6-7) and are now in sixth place in the American Athletic Conference standings.
UCF seemed to have the advantage from the tip, never trailing after Tulsa scored the first basket of the game. In fact, the Knights led by as many as 12 points in the first half when two free throws from B.J. Taylor with 5:06 to play gave UCF a 26-14 advantage.
A 13-5 run by the Golden Hurricane cut the UCF lead to just four points at the break. Matt Williams led the Knights with 10 points at the break, but both Nick Banyard and A.J. Davis went 2-of-2 from three-point range to help keep UCF ahead through the first 20 minutes.
The Golden Hurricane, who defeated UCF 77-66 in Tulsa back on Jan. 28, continued to fight at the start of the second half. The road team tied the game at 33-33, before giving way to the Knights for good. UCF extended its lead to double digits when Banyard capped a 7-0 run with a pair from the charity stripe to make it 50-40 with 9:29 to play in the game.
UCF took control from there thanks to upperclassmen Banyard and Davis. Both finished with 10 second half points as the Knights led by as much as 21 before cruising to the 71-53 victory.
It was a banner night for Banyard, who scored a career high 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds. The senior went a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the arc, marking a new career high for three-pointers in a game.
"He's really stepping up for us," Dawkins said of Banyard. "He's made a lot of big shots, but more than the shots, he has made a lot of big plays for us. He's active, providing a lot of energy, and playing with a lot of confidence. When he plays that way he really impacts the game for us."
Banyard's other 18-point night was Feb. 11 of last season against Evansville as a member of Illinois State's team. His best outing at a night before Tuesday was 13 points against UConn just three days ago. The fifth year senior shot 5-of-6 from the floor and added three assists in the win.
"I've just been sticking with it," Banyard said. "I go out there and shoot early, before every game. I don't care too much if I miss, as long as it feels good. Matt [Williams] tells me every game to shoot the ball. He has some of the most confidence in me, along with A.J. [Davis]."
Davis was also stellar on Tuesday, recording his fourth double-double of the season. The redshirt-junior went for 16 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 5-of-8 from the floor, 2-of-3 from three-point range and 4-of-4 from the free throw line. Davis had a complete game, also adding three assists, two blocks and a steal.
Playing without an injured Tank Efianayi, the Knights got all of their scoring from their five starters. Taylor finished with 15, Williams added 13 and Tacko Fall chipped in with nine.
It was once again the defense, though, that proved to be the difference. UCF, which came in leading the nation in field goal percentage defense at 35.7 percent, held Tulsa to just 29.8 percent from the floor and 34.6 percent from three points range.
The defensive rebounding of Davis and Banyard was impressive (nine each), but Fall consistently made it difficult for the Golden Hurricane offense by altering shots and blocking five himself. UCF finished with eight blocked shots as a team.
UCF will now head back on the road for a pair of games at East Carolina and Temple. The Knights take on the Pirates this Saturday, Feb. 18. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. on ESPNEWS.