"Coach came up with a great play," A.J. Rompza said of the final game-winning shot. "I threw it up there, I floated it, I saw it bounce around a bit and it just went in…I was determined not to lose this one."
It was a chess match early on as the Knights and Golden Hurricane tactically went back and forth, as Conference USA leading scorer Jermaine Taylor was unusually quiet as he scored just five points in the opening nine minutes. Meanwhile, Tulsa leading scorer Jerome Jordan flexed his inside muscle as the Knights had trouble with the seven-footer. Jordan quickly scored eight points in the first nine minutes en route to a 19-11 Tulsa advantage early on.
The Knights pulled to within one at 27-26 as Jermaine Taylor canned a three-point shot from the top of the key which gave him the UCF all-time scoring record with 1,764 career points. Shortly thereafter, Taylor was fouled shooting a three and connected on all three of his attempts from the charity stripe giving the Knights their first lead at 29-28 since the early moments of the game. After the UCF lead swelled to three points on another Taylor basket, the Golden Hurricane scored seven straight to reclaim the advantage at the break at 35-31.
"It's a great accomplishment for me," Taylor said of the scoring record. "I'm glad my family was here to see it. I'm just happy to get the win though."
Jermaine Taylor led the Knights with 13 points at the break on 4-10 shooting and Kendrick Zondervan added 10 points and four rebounds. Justin Hurtt led Tulsa with 11 points while canning three shots from long range, and Jerome Jordan finished with 8 points on 4-5 shooting. The Knights shot 45.8% from the field (11-24) while Tulsa shot 48.3% (14-29). UCF, normally one of the best in the nation at the free throw line connected on just 5-9 (55.6%).
Tulsa began the second half just as they finished the first half as they went on a 11-3 run and their lead swelled to 12 points, at 46-34. UCF didn't have an answer for Tulsa's offense as they continually executed down low and at the free throw line. Meanwhile, the UCF offense struggled to get off anything resembling a good shot as they scored just twice from the field in the first ten minutes of the second half.
"Obviously, Tulsa's a very good basketball team," Knights head coach Kirk Speraw said. "They're so sound and solid defensively, it's tough to get anything easy, let alone get anything. We went through a stretch there in the second half where we turned the ball over trying to make plays."
Tulsa increased their lead to a seemingly insurmountable 17 points as Ray Reese canned a three point shot. With hope all but lost, the Knights charged back on a 13-4 run to get the lead back to single digits, but Tulsa withstood the run, and sophomore guard Glenn Andrews canned a long three to put Tulsa back up by 13 points.
"It would've been easy for us to give up, down 17 points, but we fought hard," Rompza said.
Still, the Knights had one more run left in them as Jermaine "the Beast" Taylor began to take over. "JT" scored 13 points in a row for the Knights to pull them within five at 63-58. The Knights had cut the lead to three on a pair of Tony Davis free throws before Tulsa center Jerome Jordan answered with a pair of pressure free throws of his own. Those Jordan free throws would be the last Tulsa points in five minutes of game action, as the Knights went on a 7-0 run to take a 69-67 lead, their first lead of the half.
"They showed a lot of heart," Speraw said. "To scratch and dig and claw, possession by possession to get back into it. I'm very proud of the guys, the effort they showed, the determination, coming down the stretch, it was a very good basketball game."
With less than a minute to play, A.J. Rompza shot an off balance jumper which grazed off the rim and fortuitously bounced right to Tony Davis, who grabbed the rebound and was promptly fouled. Davis, calm and collected, nailed both free throws to give the Knights a 71-67 advantage with just 39.5 seconds left. Justin Hurtt kept it interesting as he nailed an off balance jumper to pull Tulsa within two points at 71-69. Tulsa promptly fouled freshman point guard A.J. Rompza, who hit one of two free throws to put the Knights up three at 72-69. Following a Tulsa timeout, guard Glenn Andrews canned a long three point shot to knot the game at 72 with just over eight seconds left.
"The last play, obviously we had something designed for Jermaine, then Rompza caught it and held it," Speraw said. "So then he lost two seconds off the clock and we had Jermaine open.
Freshman guard A.J. Rompza then drove the length of the court and canned a short floater as time expired to give the Knights a 74-72 victory.
"Rompza didn't have time to get it to him (Taylor) or didn't think he had time to get it to him, and he made a good play," Speraw said. "He had a great look at it and knocked that down. He has the ability to do that."
Jermaine Taylor once again led the Knights in scoring with 35 points on 10-21 shooting, while Kendrick Zondervan added 18 points and six rebounds. A.J. Rompza came off the bench to score five clutch points, while dishing out three assists and grabbing four rebounds.
With the win, the Knights halted a three game losing skid and bettered their record to 16-9, 6-5 in C-USA.
Don't Call it a Comeback, Knights Win 74-72
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