UCF Basketball Begins With Exhibition Win

The UCF Knights won their preseason exhibition over Flagler College Tuesday night, 76-56, in front of an enthusiastic yet small crowd of 2,016 at the UCF Arena.

UCF began the game in sluggish fashion as they let the Division II Flagler College Saints hang around, never gaining more than a four-point advantage through the first ten minutes of play. Sophomore John Pietkiewicz, a Winter Park native was on fire early on for the Saints as he single handedly kept the school from St. Augustine in the game as he scored 17 of Flagler's first 24 points.

"John Pietkiewicz had an outstanding night, he came out well out of the box," said UCF head coach Kirk Speraw. "He shot the ball with great confidence and that certainly exposed some of the concerns we have, losing Dave Noel, a guy who could certainly take on those challenges. We knew that John would be a tough guard for us tonight and he certainly was in the first half."

Despite UCF's wealth of size, the Knights were somewhat hesitant to take the ball to the hoop in the first half, rather settling for outside jumpers. Even though the Knights didn't play to their strengths, they opened up a bit of an advantage with a few minutes left in the half and took a 41-30 lead into the break thanks to 16 first half points by Jermaine Taylor.

"We have a lot of great perimeter shooters, but we want the ball to go inside," said Knights center Kenrick Zondervan. "Coach has been asking us to do that, but it's a young team and it's a lot of rush and play right now. The young guys have to get used to playing with me and all the other post players. If the ball goes inside they can get shots."

Jermaine Taylor made six of his 10 shots from the field in the first half including three of five from behind the arc for 16 points. 5'9" freshman guard A.J. Rompza led the team with five assists and added two rebounds at the half. John Pietkiewicz accounted for more than half of Flagler's scoring, as he finished the half with 17 pints while hitting on six of 11 shots from the field including five of nine from three-point range. Senior forward Brandon Johnson led the Saints with six rebounds.

The Knights couldn't put Flagler away through the first ten minutes of the second half as the Saints stayed within ten points. With nine minutes remaining, Coach Speraw made wholesale substitutions putting his starters back in the game in hopes that the Knights could get a little distance from the school from St. Johns county.

"They played hard and they weren't intimidated," said Zondervan.

UCF received that distance with just under five minutes remaining as senior guard Jermaine Taylor electrified the crowd with a pair of thunderous dunks to put the Knights up 65-50. Taylor left the game shortly after with a hip injury when freshman guard Dave Diakite crashed into him on an offensive rebound. Taylor finished with 31 points.

"It's better now," Taylor said of his hip. "I don't really know what happened, I just fell and when I got up and started running it stiffened up on me a little bit, but it's fine now."

It was a less than stellar performance for the Knights as they worked some of the bugs out against a very motivated, game Flagler College team with local ties, as former UCF great Bo Clark has coached the Division II school for 23 years.

"It was a good exhibition for us, I though Flagler did a great job," said Coach Speraw. "Bo (Clark) is a great coach and their team is well coached, they execute well, they play well together."

The Knights suffered from some sloppy play and indecisiveness on offense, but they managed to finish with 21 assists and just seven turnovers. An impressive stat considering the team was playing with mostly young players.

"It was a game where we could see some progress in certain areas and we could see some weaknesses that we obviously have to get better at," Coach Speraw explained. "We did play a lot of people, trying to get a sense and a feel of how they would respond to game situations. This was the first time we played against an opponent in front of fans and when you haven't done that before, you get ancy, you get anxious, you forget about everything you're supposed to do, and we had a lot of that tonight. Hopefully we will get that out of our system and continue to make progress day-to-day."

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