UCF defeated the Rice Owls 78-67 Wednesday night to improve to 13-5 on the season and 3-1 in conference play. Calvin Newell and Isaiah Sykes scored 24 points each, a career high for freshman Newell.
Newell shared after the game that he is beginning to hit his stride with his teammates and is gaining confidence as the season progresses. “I’m getting more comfortable with my team, and I know when to get my shots off, and I know when not to shoot now…” Newell said after the game.
The Knights went into halftime tied at 32 after falling behind early on, 21-14.
Hot off of his 22 point game against Houston last Saturday, Isaiah Sykes carried the team with 14 first half points, while Calvin Newell helped keep the offense alive with 12 of his own points.
No other Knights scored more than five points in the first half. Team scoring leader Keith Clanton was not able to contribute at all, missing his only shot attempt. He would finish the day with only 3 points.
UCF came out playing fast and confident in the second period, taking the lead and refusing to look back.
Tristan Spurlock was instrumental in changing the momentum of the game after only putting two points on the board in the first half. The 6 foot 8 inch forward was able to snag 12 rebounds and added 12 more points in the first ten minutes of the second period alone, finishing with 14 points and a double-double.
Spurlock took advice from his teammates at the half. “Talking to the guys on the bench, they saw a lot of things I didn’t… In the second half I just wanted to come out and be way more aggressive.”
The Knights took full advantage of a physical Rice team, drawing 35 free throws and converting 27 of them. In a game where the Owls outscored the Knights from the floor, sinking 24 of their field goal attempts and shooting with 8% more accuracy throughout the game, it was the massive amount of points scored by UCF on free throw attempts that propelled the Knights to victory.
It is not a glamorous stat by any means, but it goes to prove that solid, fundamental basketball is the fastest way to consistently win games. While Rice was able to draw 16 free throw shots and made just over half of them, UCF’s 27 points off of free throws turned out to be an insurmountable obstacle for the Owls.
Coach Jones credited the team with forcing Rice to play their style of game, recounting a halftime talk in which he “talked about it at half time, I said that we’re shooting too many threes. We needed to get the ball inside in the second half. We got to the free throw line that was a big emphasis.”
The victory moves UCF into third within the conference, as they continue the quest for a Conference USA title.
The Knights will finish up a two game home stand Saturday afternoon at 4 PM against the SMU Mustangs in the UCF Arena.