The UCF Knights came to Memphis Sunday without their towering center, Tacko Fall, who is sidelined the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. But they had more than enough B.J. Taylor to make up the difference. (A preseason all-conference pick, Taylor missed the teams' first meeting on January 3rd with an injury of his own.) Taylor scored 22 points — 16 after halftime — and hit a key shot with less than a minute to play that provided the winning margin in the Knights' very first victory on Memphis soil. (UCF had been 0-14 in the Bluff City, including 0-11 at FedExForum.)
The win halts a recent skid for UCF, one that saw the Knights lose five of seven games, including a pair to American Athletic Conference titan Cincinnati. UCF is now 15-9 for the season and 6-6 in the AAC.
As for the Tigers, consider their skid active. Memphis has lost five of six games to fall to 14-11 and 5-7 in league play. The Tigers are now 2-9 in the month of February over two seasons under coach Tubby Smith.
"It's a disappointing loss," said Smith. "You've got to commend Central Florida. They came here ready. When you're on the road, you've got to make shots, and they did that most of the game. The three-point shot did us in, and they beat us in the paint." UCF shot 53 percent from the field and outscored the Tigers 42-28 inside.
The score remained tight throughout the contest with 12 ties and 13 lead changes. UCF took a 32-30 lead at halftime on a put-back layup, but the Tigers took a lead (41-40) with just over 15 minutes to play on a pair of free throws by Kyvon Davenport
. The Knights pulled away with an 11-4 run over a six-minute stretch, one that transformed the score from 50-50 at the 10:00 mark to 61-54 with 3:52 left to play. Taylor sparked the burst, along with forward A.J. Davis, who scored 20 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and hit nine of ten shots from the field.
"It's happened nearly every game [on defense]," noted Smith, "whether it's fatigue or a lack of concentration. We gotta have execution down the stretch, and we didn't. It's about defense and rebounding, and those are two areas where we're struggling."
Davenport scored a season-high 23 points to lead the Tigers and also led in the rebounding column with eight. (No other Tiger had as many as six rebounds.) Point guard Jeremiah Martin
scored 17 points in 39 minutes and added four assists and three steals (three turnovers). Mike Parks
scored 10 points and blocked a pair of shots.
Five days after scoring 11 points off the bench against Wichita State, Raynere Thornton was limited to a minute of playing time by what Smith described as a rib injury.
"We have to convince [the players] that there is plenty of basketball left to play," emphasized Smith. "Don't give up. We did some things better today than we did against Wichita State. I know I'll be positive. This time of year, you want to still be playing, and playing tough. We played hard today. Didn't always play smart, but we played hard."
Three of the Tigers' next four games will be on the road, starting with a visit to SMU Wednesday night. When the teams met in Dallas last March, the Mustangs won by 41 points.