It was a battle until the buzzer as UCF (4-2) lost 46-43 to St. John’s (6-1) while Dayon Griffin watched his shot from the beyond arc bounce off the rim.
“It was a tough, hard-fought game by both teams. I thought it was a defensive game mostly, said Coach Johnny Dawkins after the game, “I don’t think either team had a good flow offensively. Both team really locked in and that made it very hard to get easy baskets. Unfortunately, we came out on the short end.”
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The Knights trailed by ten points at the 6:21 mark of the second after Shamorie Ponds sunk two free throws. Minutes later, Chad Brown made a jumper to pull UCF within four points followed up by a Dayon Griffin three with 2:38 remaining in the game.
Terrell Allen fouled Ponds with 1:13 who made both go-ahead free throws securing the three-point lead, 46-43.
Both teams traded missed baskets giving Johnny Dawkins’ squad one last chance to win or tie. Ceasar DeJesus had a good look as time ticked down but the shot didn’t fall for the Knights.
“We were missing some shots that I think we normally make. It’s not like we’re taking too many threes. Recently we’ve taken 10, 11, 12 threes a game so we’re not taking a lot of threes,” said Dawkins after the Knights shot 1/13 from three-point range, “I think there’s just a learning curve going on right now because some guys missed all of last year and they’re adjusting to real game minutes and everything that goes along with it.”
AJ Davis grabbed his 10th rebound of the game and kicked it out to Griffin who missed as time expired.
For St. John’s, Marcus LoVett scored 12 points and Marvin Clark II added 11 points and seven rebounds. Still, both teams struggled from the floor as St Jonh’s shot 27.1 percent while UCF just less at 26.4.
Turnovers plagued both teams as St. John’s had 22, while UCF continued their trend of the tournament with 21 turnovers.
“I think they both helped us,” said Davis on this year’s tournament and last seaons’ Charleston Classic, “Last year’s team, we were a little bit more mature. We were just an older team. This year we’ve got younger guys, who are just learning what’s important and what we’ve got to do win.”
“I think both tournaments did us greatly. Our team this year learned a lot from it and we’ll take that into the rest of the season,” said Davis. After last year’s loss to Villanova in the championship game of the Charleston Classic, UCF won four straight games, and eight of their next ten games.
It was an ugly start for UCF as they found themselves trailing 10-0 after nearly five minutes of basketball. The Knights’ defense showed a glimpse of last year’s suffocating defense and went on a 6-0 run of their own. At the half, UCF led 23-22.
“I love where we are defensively. We take care of the basketball and don’t give people easy shots,” Dawkins said after UCF forced 21 turnovers, “We defend very well in the halfcourt and that’s what we hang our hat on. We just got to build on that.”
Chad Brown scored 12 points off the bench adding 7 rebounds. Brown played for most of the second half as Tacko Fall fouled out of the game with 6:21 left in the game. Fall finished with 8 points and four blocks before his day ended early.
The Knights got to the free throw line 23 times but could only hit 14 shots, while the Red Storm shot ⅞ from the line.
UCF, now losing its second game in a row, returns home from Disney to host Missouri Thursday evening. The Tigers recently lost one of the best guards in the nation in Michael Porter Jr. to a shoulder injury.