UCF Beats USF in Latest Edition of the War On I-4
The UCF men's basketball team earned its 20th win of the season and clinched a first round bye in next week's American Athletic Conference Championship with a 59-56 road victory over USF in the War On I-4 Rivalry Series.
"It's what we expected," UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said. "It's a rivalry game. Throw the records out the window because you know both teams are going to compete, and they did. That's how it should be."
The Bulls (7-21, 1-16 AAC) came into Thursday's game in last place in the standings, but showed no fear against a UCF squad that just defeated then No. 15 Cincinnati on Sunday. USF took its first lead on a Michael Bibby 3-pointer that made it 7-4 and held on until the final moments.
Although the Knights (20-10, 11-7 AAC) tied the game four different times, it wasn't until there was just one minutes and thirty seconds remaining that UCF regained the lead.
After Troy Holston gave the Bulls a 56-51 lead with 2:48 to play, the Knights called the number of its sharpshooting backcourt once again. Senior Matt Williams, who finished with a game high 20 points, knocked down his third three of the game to cut the deficit to just two points, at 56-54, with 2:27 left on the clock.
It then became what some might start calling "Taylor Time." Sophomore B.J. Taylor, who has hit big shot after big shot late in games the past couple of weeks, did it once again. His 3-pointer from the wing put the Knights up for good at 57-56 as UCF held on for the 59-56 victory.
"That's what a season should be about. It should be learning how to win," Dawkins said of closing out recent games late. "When you talk about facing adversity and figuring out how to win, you need to learn how to do that. There's no shortcut. There's no magic potion. You have to figure it out on that floor and our guys have found a way to do that."
With the win UCF finished the regular season 20-10 and earned its first 20-win season since 2012-13. The Knights will await the final American Athletic Conference contests to see who they will play in the quarterfinals of next week's tournament, because at 11-7 they have clinched at least the four seed and a first round bye.
"That's one of those milestones in our profession," Dawkins said of the 20 wins. "For our players it's something they'll always be able to share. I'm really happy for them, because that's really meaningful for them now, but it will also be meaningful for them for the rest of their lives."
Williams finished with a game high 20 points on 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. Taylor totaled 17 on 4-of-8 from long distance, five rebounds and four assists in 40 minutes. A.J. Davis had a team high nine rebounds and four assists, while Tacko Fall added seven points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
"This feels good," Williams said of the win. "It's up there with the top [games]. It feels good to get a win over our rival."
Williams' third three of the night etched his name into the UCF record book yet again. It was his 104th of the season and the 252nd of his career, breaking both the single season and career records at UCF. He passed Gary Johnson (103, 2004-05) and Jermaine Taylor (251, 2005-09).
"It just comes from hard work and motivation from my coaches and my teammates," Williams said of his records. "Without the confidence that my teammates have in me to keep feeding me the ball, [I wouldn't have these records]."
The senior wasn't the only Knights to set a new record on Thursday. With Fall's second block of the game he set a new single-season record at UCF with his 75th of the season. He passed John Friday, who recorded 74 blocks back in 1986-87.
The win also added to UCF's lead in the War On I-4 Rivalry Series. After three more points on Thursday, the Knights lead the Bulls 30-15. The next matchup in the series will be April 1 when the men's tennis teams meet in Orlando.
The Knights will return home and begin preparing for the 2017 Frontier Communications American Athletic Conference Championship. UCF will start in the quarterfinals on Friday at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.