The UCF Knights (3-0) basketball team fended off a very tough Savannah State (3-2) team in their second home game of the season, winning 53-50 at The Dungeon in Orlando, Fl.
Last season, the SSU Tigers won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title and also advanced to the first round of the NIT Tournament, finishing the season with 21 wins. The Tigers returned all five starters from the group that saw so much success last season and they brought that confidence to the Dungeon, giving the Knights a very competitive game.
“We knew that they went to the post season last year, so we knew it was going to be a grind for the whole 40 minutes. We knew it was going to be a fight, and they definitely did, they came out really scrappy.” UCF forward Tristian Spurlock said of SSU.
Spurlock had 13 points, six rebounds and his two free throws with 12 seconds left gave the Knights a 51-50 lead they would not relinquish.
Keith Clanton led the scoring with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
In addition to his usual hustle and intensity, Isaiah Sykes contributed 14 points and earned his way to the foul line 13 times. While only hitting 6-of-13 foul shots, he took charge at the end of the game, creating shots and opportunities for an offense that looked out of sync.
“I am happy that we did find a way down the stretch to make some free throws and grind it out.” UCF Coach Donnie Jones said.
With three-minutes left in the game and the score tied at 44 a piece, the teams traded foul shots, both being in the bonus. Isaiah Sykes picked up the pace, scoring 5 consecutive points, hitting 3-5 free throws.
“He’s really a mismatch guy.” Coach Jones said of Sykes ability to create on his own. “He missed some free throws so he’s going to continue to work on that, but he’s going to get a lot of them because he’s a tough match up.”
Even though he shot 0-9 from the field, Kasey Wilson was pivotal at the end of the game grabbing big defensive rebounds and hitting all four of his foul shots in the closing minutes. He also hunted down a huge loose ball that, with the Knights down 49-50 and 28 seconds left, gave UCF the opportunity they needed.
“He hit the big free throws, he had big rebounds, and that loose ball that he got there at the end when it was deflected, he went and got it,” Jones said of Wilson, “Those things make a difference when it comes to the end, and the bottom line is to just find a way to win.”
The Knights kicked off the season with a pummeling of cross state rival USF, 74-56 to set the tone for the season. They then followed that up with an 86-56 routing of Alabama State in the UCF home opener. The Tigers easily gave the Knights their toughest contest of the year and UCF finding a way to solidify the win through adversity late in the game is a promising indicator of a team capable of making things happen this season.
The Knights will host Middle Tennessee State at home on Tuesday, November 20th at 7pm before making the short drive to Gainesville to face the Florida Gators on Friday at 4pm. The UCF@UF game will be broadcast on Sun Sports.