The UCF Men’s basketball team has gotten out to some slow starts this season.
This time it finally caught up with them.
Houston scored the first eight points of the game and held off a late rally by the No. 18 Knights to go on to win 76-71 and hand UCF its first loss of the season. Houton held the Knights (14-1, 1-1 in Conference USA play) to a season-low 22.7 percent shooting in the first half as they opened up a 24-8 lead to start the game and never looked back.
The loss is not just the first of the season for the Knights, but the first for head coach Donnie Jones at UCF. His team had started the season on a 14-game winning streak, tying the longest mark in school history since joining Division I in the 1984-85 season.
Marcus Jordan was held to just 10 points in the game on 3-of-9 shooting while UCF’s leading scorer, Keith Clanton, scored just 13 points with 11 of those coming from the free-throw line.
A Maurice McNeil layin with 1:32 left put the Cougars up by eight, but A.J. Rompza nailed a clutch 3-pointer with 1:22 remaining to pull the Knights to within five at 67-62. After being down by eight with 18 seconds to go, Jordan hit a layup and Rompza nailed a 3-pointer with 11 seconds to go to pull UCF to within three at 74-71, but the Cougars (9-6) hit two free throws down the stretch and Rompza missed back-to-back three pointers as time expired to doom the Knights.
The Knights used a 14-6 run to start the second half to pull to within four points of the Cougars after trailing by as many as 18 in the first half, but costly turnovers and missed free throws hurt the Knight comeback.
Houston’s defense forced the Knights into 16 turnovers for the game and held them to just 39.2 percent shooting from the floor for the game. UCF scored 17 second-chance points and put up 32 attempts from the free-throw line in the game, but the Knights missed 10 of them. Houston hit 18-of-22 from the line in the game and scored 32 points in the paint.
UCF couldn’t get in synch on either side of the floor in the first half. Houston’s pressure defense forced the Knights into 10 first-half turnovers as they hit just five field goals in the first half. Defensively, they couldn’t contain Kirk Van Slyke, who scored 15 first-half points, and the entire Cougar offense, who shot 48.3 percent from the field in the first half, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range.
Down 12-4 following a Tom Herzog bucket with 15:12 left in the first half, Houston reeled off an 18-9 run to take a 30-13 lead with 7:55 left till the break. The Knights closed out the half on an 8-6 run to close out the half, but trailed by 15 at the half.