Knights Capture Holiday Classic

With all apologies to the Buffalo Bills Marshawn Lynch, Knights guard Jermaine Taylor was in full "Beast Mode" as he was named tournament MVP and UCF captured their third consecutive Holiday Classic title with an 89-75 victory over the Chicago State Cougars, but it wasn't as easy as the final score indicated.

The visiting Chicago State Cougars, who literally spent days trying to get to Orlando due to various airline delays, didn't play the role of whipping boys and showed up to make a game of it, at least in the first half.

"They're a scrappy team and they came in here with some confidence and certainly the way they shoot the ball we're never comfortable," Knights head coach Kirk Speraw said.

The team that was largely considered a one-man gang consisting of the nation's second-leading scorer in David Holston put forth a very balanced effort in the first half as Holston, John Cantrell, and Marquis Young kept the underdog Cougars in the game. The trio combined for 26 of Chicago State's 35 points in the first half.

The two teams went back and forth for much of the first half before the Knights found a little breathing room as they went on a 17-6 run to end the half as they took a 47-35 lead into the break. Jermaine Taylor scored 13 of the Knights 17 points on that run. In a game billed as star vs. star, Jermaine Taylor owned the first half as he finished with 24 points on 9-14 shooting. Chicago State's David Holston, who was reportedly battling flu-like symptoms had just 8 points in the half on 3-12 shooting, as Knights guard A.J. Rompza did a fantastic job defending him.

Just as UCF did a night earlier against Penn, they took control of the game early in the second half as their 17-6 run turned into a 30-10 run to put the game out of reach.

Although two-time tournament MVP Jermaine Taylor supplied his usual dazzling display of high flying dunks and long distance bombs on his way to a new career high of 38 points, Taylor had plenty of help from his supporting cast.

"I think I had a lot of runouts, A.J. did a great job of finding me, so did T.Y. (Taylor Young), my shot was on and when I'm on I'm going to keep shooting it," Taylor said.

Freshman Jakub "Kuba" Kusmieruk better known around the UCF Arena as the "Polish Hammer" dropped a new career high of 8 points, and sophomore A.J. Tyler bucketed 8 points to give the Knights yet another scoring threat. Freshman Issac Sosa also had 8 and senior Kendrick Zondervan added 10 points and 7 rebounds for the Knights.

Freshman point guard A.J. Rompza, a Chicago native, played much bigger than his stat-line as he did a great job on defense against David Holston, holding him to just 14 points on 4-17 shooting, 12 points under his season average.

"All of the credit goes to A.J. Rompza, he did a great job of shutting him down," Taylor said. "We shot the gaps where he couldn't really drive, his shot wasn't on. I think A.J. did a really good job of contesting his shots. He had no easy looks, but that's the way we have to play those players."

Rompza was able to break the Chicago State press with relative ease and did a great job of getting the Knights into their offense. Rompza led the Knights with 10 assists and added 2 steals and 6 rebounds.

The Knights scorched the nets all game long as they shot 53.4% from the field, hit on 7 of 19 shots from behind the arc, and connected on 20 of 28 from the charity stripe. The Cougars were held to just 39.1% from the field and hit on just 22 of 31 from the charity stripe. Senior John Cantrell led the Cougars with 29 points, 20 of which came in the second half.

The UCF Holiday Classic All-Tournament Team consisted of UCF guard A.J. Rompza, Chicago State guards David Holston and John Cantrell, Penn forward Jack Eggleston, and Campbell forward Jonathan Rodriguez. Jermaine Taylor averaged 36 points per game to take home MVP honors for the second consecutive year.

With the victory, UCF moves to 8-4 with a game looming against the Sam Houston State Bearkats at the UCF Arena on Saturday night.


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