ORLANDO, Fla. – The battle of the big men at UCF men’s basketball home opener was very sloppy, but the team showed fight throughout despite dropping a tight game to UC Irvine 61-60 in overtime.
“It came down to the last couple plays and they made some plays and we didn’t, but I felt like we battled the whole game. We looked better defensively, we got some good stops and we just didn’t finish a couple plays,” redshirt sophomore forward AJ Davis said.
Freshman Tacko Fall finally met someone his own size (7-foot-6) and got off to a quick start with two consecutive blocks to open the game against the Anteater’s redshirt junior center Mamadou Ndiaye.
“I mean, I just did my job. I had to play good defense on [Mamadou Ndiaye] and make a statement once the game started and that’s what I did,” Fall said.
The freshman center broke out registering 4 blocks and 7 rebounds as he managed to stifle Ndiaye and get him into early foul trouble. Fall was not fazed by Mamadou Ndiaye on either side of the court leaving redshirt junior center one for five by the end of the night with only one rebound.
Turnovers doomed much of the first half for the Knights, however they made up for it on the glass with 33 rebounds in comparison to UC Irvine’s 16 boards. However, the Knight’s gaffes on the offensive side did not cost them much though because they entered halftime down a basket.
“We rebounded the ball unbelievably tonight. I don’t think I have ever since that big of a margin there with rebounds, so we are going to be a good rebounding team and defensively that will help us a lot,” UCF head coach Donnie Jones said.
Redshirt sophomore AJ Davis took on the role of point forward and was dominant in just his second outing in the black and gold, leading the way for the Knights with 19 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds.
“I think in any game we go into it’s about reads and looks and what the defense gives us,” Davis said. “They were playing [Adonys Henriquez] really tight, they didn’t let him get any good looks and of course he’s a great scorer.”
Coming out of the half though, UCF looked re-energized and sophomore Adonys Henriquez made his presence known with two 3-pointers to give UCF the lead early in the second half. The rest of the Knights followed suit as well, shooting 50 percent from the field in the second half which helped keep them in the game after the lackluster first half.
Senior forward Shaheed Davis led the team in rebounds with 12 while Tacko Fall and senior Staphon Blair manned the paint, forcing UC Irvine to take more outside shots in order to win the game.
UC Irvine’s penchant for the 3-pointer kept the team in it though, knocking down 7 of 18 from long range. Sophomore guard Luke Nelson accounted for 4 of those three pointers and led the Anteaters with 22 points and 6 assists.
Nelson’s up-and-under layup with a minute remaining gave the Anteaters a 2 point lead, but the Knights responded quickly with a Tacko Fall dunk to tie up the game and send it into overtime.
The overtime period carried over the physical defense and turnover-happy play from the first two halves as UC Irvine outscored UCF just 3-2, which resulted in the Anteaters handing the Knights their second loss in as many games.
“That was like an NCAA tournament game. Both teams, a very physical game, defensive grind-out,” Jones said. “I thought it was a well played game from both teams and you know we had our opportunities down the stretch there.”
UCF will look to turn the tide and get in the win column when they take on UNC Greensboro this Saturday at 7 p.m. at the CFE Arena.