Knights Start Slow, Finish Strong

ORLANDO, FL - It certainly wasn't a thing of beauty, but the UCF Knights (9-4) kept alive their perfect record at the UCF Arena with an 86-70 victory over the Sam Houston State Bearkats (6-7).

The Knights were surprised by the Bearkats in the opening minutes of the game as Sam Houston State went on a 10-2 run. UCF star guard Jermaine Taylor headed to the bench early on as it appeared he suffered a minor hand injury.

"I think if we're going to be a successful team, we have to pick up when Jermaine is slacking," A.J. Rompza said. "Every game he's not going to come out hot and every game he's not going to score 30, but when we pick up the slack you see things start to pick up for him."

Coach Speraw called a timeout with 13:25 remaining in the first half and the Knights responded with a 26-4 run over the next 10 minutes as they were led by Tony Davis who scored 10 points on the run. The Knights and ‘Kats traded baskets over the final three minutes and UCF took a 33-21 lead into the break.

"We knew it was going to be tough and Sam Houston plays tough defense, they're very physical," Knights head coach Kirk Speraw said. "Our first five possessions I think we had two missed layups and two turnovers and we just didn't come out with a good frame of mind offensively…defensively we came out very solid and played well for the first 16 minutes. That kept us in the game until our offense got going."

UCF endured their sloppiest half of basketball this season at home as the Knights connected on just 9 of 28 field goals (32.1%), 4 of 12 from long distance, and turned the ball over nine times. As sloppy as UCF played, the Bearkats were even worse as they hit on just 9 of 25 shots from the field (36%), just 3 of 12 shots from long distance, and turned the ball over 16 times. Knights leading scorer Jermaine Taylor bucketed just 3 points in the first half on 1-5 shooting.

"I started off slow, they came out aggressive, a lot of slapping, a lot of fouling," Jermaine Taylor said. "I knew in the second half I had to come out aggressive and change things, and that's what I did."

The Knights traded baskets with visiting Sam Houston State early on in the second half before UCF went on a 10-0 run fueled by Jermaine Taylor's hot shooting. The Knights lead swelled to 21 points on a Chris Baez three-point shot with 10 minutes remaining and it was smooth sailing from there for the home team. Whenever the Bearkats would trim the UCF lead down near 10, the Knights calmly answered with a series of hoops, and the outcome was never in doubt.

Jermaine Taylor bounced back from his tough first half to finish with 26 points on 6-15 shooting from the field, 14-16 from the line. Issac Sosa added 13 points on 5-9 shooting, and Tony Davis bucketed 10 points and led the team with seven rebounds. Point guard A.J. Rompza had another fine all-around game as he broke the Sam Houston press and distributed the basketball to perfection. Rompza once again led the team with five assists, grabbed six rebounds, and added 15 points while hitting all 10 free throw attempts.

"I think when you take care of a bunch of other things and you're worried about scoring, nothing's going to come to you," Knights point guard A.J. Rompza said. "I was forcing a couple looks, I saw a few things. Usually I don't force things, and I've just been letting the game come to me."

UCF finished the evening shooting 40% from the field, while connecting on 7 of 17 from behind the arc, and the team connected on 35 of 42 free throws, a season high. The Knights defense held the Bearkats to 46% shooting from the field, 37% from long range, and forced 23 turnovers.

With the victory, the Knights improved their home record to 7-0. UCF takes on the Holy Cross Crusaders Tuesday night at the UCF Arena, there are still plenty of good seats left.

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