Orlando. Fla- The men’s basketball starts off the season with a W, defeating Mercer 88 to 79. at CFE Arena in front of a packed crowd.
Unfortunately, the story of this game is injuries. We already knew Aubrey Dawkins was out for the year, but minutes before the game it was announced Tacko Fall wasn’t suiting up. Tacko has a sore hip, Coach Dawkins claimed it was not serious. He didn’t give us a timetable for Tacko’s return. It gets worse: B.J Taylor left the game after a strong drive to the basket. Coach Dawkins didn’t give us much of an update after the game, only stating it was a foot injury.
“We have been in this predicament before,” Coach Dawkins said. “Hopefully this bug (injury bug) will go away from us, if you guys know anyone let me know”.
AJ Davis stepped up huge for UCF. The senior knew he had to pick up his game, due to their injuries. He played a lot of minutes at the 5 with Tacko Fall out. Davis was very effective at the 5, he grabbed 15 rebounds, and blocked 3 shots. This also had a positive impact on UCF’s offense, Davis is a capable ball handler, so when he gets rebounds he pushes the pace instead of having to find a guard.
Ceasar DeJesus played great in his first game at UCF, scoring 16 points on 66% shooting. DeJesus is a pretty finisher, using his euro-step effectively on multiple occasions.
“He is definitely a scorer, I haven’t seen anyone finish the way he does, it looks crazy to me every time,” AJ Davis said about DeJesus.
Chance McSpadden had a great first game back after missing all last year due to injury. He was given the job of guarding Mercer’s leading scorer in the second half. Coach Dawkins said that will be his role on the team. Chance was effective on the offensive end as well. Scoring 13 points on 60% shooting.
“He was the only player when I first got here in my one on one meeting that said coach I like to play defense,” Coach Dawkins praised. “He really does take pride in his matchup.”
The team played a totally different style then UCF fans are used to. They were getting out and running, over and over. Coach Dawkins told us this would be the case, but much of this was due to Tacko’s injury. They had to play small, which led to their rebounders also being ball handlers. It also opened the lane a little bit on offense. With AJ Davis at the 5 the lane was open, helping our wings get to the basket.
“Tacko is one of a kind, so when he is not in there it is a whole different style of play,” AJ Davis said. “We are a little bit more scrappy, moving around a little bit more, we like to take a couple of more chances when he is not in there.”
The team showed a lot of depth, many players stood out. Four players scored in double digits. 9 players played more than 10 minutes. This team should be able to sustain success even with their injury bug.
UCF takes on Gardner-Webb this Wednesday at CFE arena. The game starts at 7:00, and will air on ESPN 3.