Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Thursday, January 11, 2024

UCF Knights Take Down #3 Kansas in Historic Big 12 Home Opener

Filed under: UCF Sports — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 02:46

Story and Photo Courtesy UCF Athletics:

ORLANDO – “The message for us is simple: We belong.”

UCF men’s basketball coach Johnny Dawkins made his declaration Jan. 4 prior to the Knights’ Big 12 Conference opener at Kansas State, and in front of a raucous, sellout home crowd Wednesday night, they proved it.

Built upon a second-half surge and stifling efforts on the defensive end, UCF put its new conference on notice, toppling the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks by a 65-60 final score before 9,469 fans at Addition Financial Arena, marking the third largest crowd in program history and the second highest in a regular season game.

The victory ranks among the most prolific in program history, representing the first against a top three nationally-ranked opponent, the second against a top five foe, and the ninth against a squad ranked within the top 25. En route to the team’s upset, the Knights (10-4, 1-1 Big 12), erased a Jayhawks (13-2, 1-1 Big 12) lead that grew to as many as 16 points with 3:45 remaining in the first half.

“It was a great night for UCF. Our guys kept fighting in a game in which they got down early in the first half to a very good Kansas basketball team,” Dawkins said. “I’m proud of the way we fought back with great courage, effort and energy throughout the entire night.”

In the first meeting between the two programs in either’s history, the Knights also notched their first win within Big 12 Conference play and extended a few notable win streaks Dawkins himself owns against Kansas and its head coach, Bill Self.

UCF’s Wednesday effort represented his second win against the Jayhawks as a head coach, joining his triumph over Kansas as the head coach of the Stanford Cardinal March 23, 2014 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Overall, Dawkins improved to 4-0 against the Jayhawks in his career, after he also bested Kansas twice as a player with Duke in the 1985-86 season.

Against Self, Dawkins also improved to 4-0, having previously beaten his now-fellow head coach as an assistant coach with Duke in the tournament’s second round in 1999 when Self was at Tulsa, and in 2000 Dawkins bested Self when the latter was with Illinois as well.

With the two squads trading blows throughout much of the second half, the Knights finally claimed a lead they would not relinquish with 2:57 to play in the final half.

Fifth year forward Ibrahima Diallo grabbed a pass from junior guard Jaylin Sellers just outside the paint and finished a turnaround jumper just moments later, giving his team a 59-57 advantage.

Fellow fifth year CJ Walker, who made his first start for the Knights since March 11, 2022, gave UCF a bit of breathing room with a pair of free throws, and a Sellers layup coupled with two more converted free throw tries from junior guard Darius Johnson iced the Knights’ first win against a top five-ranked opponent since the team prevailed against then-No. 4 UConn by a 68-63 final score Nov. 25, 2011.

The timely shot by Diallo punctuated one of the better all-around games authored by the Saly, Senegal, native, finishing with a season-high 13 points and five total rebounds. The contest marked his highest-scoring effort since he recorded 16 points against California Baptist Nov. 18, 2021 with San Jose State.

“He was great,” Dawkins said of Diallo. “He’s going against arguably the best ‘big’ in college basketball, Hunter Dickinson is a terrific player. For Ibrahima to go toe-to-toe with him and have to battle him in the low post, he did a great job, and I’m proud of the way he stepped up and gave us a huge effort tonight.”

The final sequence, one that saw the Knights outscore the Jayhawks 8-3 and limit Kansas to one field goal in the game’s final 3:23 of play, represented a microcosm of the team’s dominant second half in the face of a daunting opponent.

After entering the final 20 minutes staring up at an eight-point deficit, Sellers, Diallo, Walker and fifth year guard Shemarri Allen combined for UCF’s first 16 points of the half while the team held Kansas to just seven in the first 6:47 of gametime to claim a 45-44 lead.

“We knew we had zone (defense) in our bag,” Dawkins added. “It’s something that we work on and we felt it was timely to play some today. That’s why you saw our guys play it so well, because they’re accustomed to playing it in practice. We were able to stay with it longer because it was effective at times in the second half.”

Johnson followed a Sellers turnaround jumpshot with his second triple of the game, and Omar Payne followed with a dunk on the fastbreak that capitalized on a Johnson steal that built the Knights’ lead to 50-44 with 11:01 to play before the Jayhawks made their final push to narrow the affairs.

UCF began its evening as dominant as it finished, jumping out to a 7-0 lead on the strength of five Sellers points. On the heels of a 12-0 Kansas run, the Knights hung with the visitors thanks to a 7-4 spurt down the stretch and a 10-2 UCF run to conclude the opening 20 minutes that pared the Jayhawks’ 35-19 lead down to 37-29 at the halftime buzzer.

“When they get that type of lead, you start to get knocked back a little bit,” Dawkins continued. “In our timeouts, I was trying to settle them down and stress that we have to take it possession by possession. We talked about working our way back in it in that last four-minute segment, and we were able to do that.”

Sellers paced the team with a game-high 18 points, marking his 11th game with at least 15 points and his 13th game in double figures. Johnson, meanwhile, recorded his third-highest scoring game this season with 17 points, and his sixth with at least 10 points.


The Knights have a quick turnaround to their next Big 12 test, when the Black and Gold will welcome the No. 18/17 BYU Cougars to Addition Financial Arena Saturday afternoon. Tipoff for the contest is slated for 4 p.m. Jan. 13 and will be streamed on ESPN+.

Watch the video below (courtesy ESPN) to see the UCF students storm the court after beating Kansas on Wednesday night:


No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Powered by WordPress