UCF Seniors Come Up Big in Thrilling Victory

UCF fans were treated to a whale of a ball game on Senior Night as their veteran leaders finished strong to lead the Knights to an exhilarating 74-71 victory over the ECU Pirates. Jermaine Taylor, the C-USA leading scorer finished with 36 points, 27 of which came in the second half, and Kenrick Zondervan scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Knights.

"I'm very proud of our seniors, they didn't want to lose and they willed it," Knights head coach Kirk Speraw said. "I've said it, those guys have made as much improvement from the time they stepped on campus to the time they leave as anybody I've ever coached. I'm glad those guys had big games on their Senior Night."

The ECU Pirates began the game with some sharp shooting as they raced off to an 8-0 lead in the opening minutes, before UCF hit a pair of threes by A.J. Tyler and Jermaine Taylor to get back in the game. The Pirates quickly answered with some threes of their own to push the lead back out to double digits, as senior guard Sam Hinnant was on fire from the outside. Hinnant finished the first half by hitting on five of nine shots from the field for 14 points.

"They're a tough team to guard," Knights head coach Kirk Speraw said of ECU. "Those guys can really shoot the basketball."

The Pirates entered halftime with a 37-23 lead as they outshot UCF 55.6% (15-27) to 25.7% (9-35), hit on seven of 16 from behind the arc (43.8%) to UCF's three of 13 (23.1%). Jermaine Taylor led the Knights with nine points at the break while shooting just four of 14 from the field.

"We had a lot of things that weren't going our way, but we dug deep, reached down and scrapped," Speraw said.

ECU's lead ballooned to 17 in the early moments of the second half on a pair of Darrius Morrow free throws, and it looked as if the Knights would be heading toward another disappointing finish. Jermaine Taylor gave some life to the crowd, perhaps too much life with a short jumper and then a three-point shot to cut the ECU lead to a dozen. After a questionable hand-check call against the Knights, the lead official Brent Hampton stopped the game and then ejected one of the UCF faithful from the Arena.

Shortly after the ejection, the Knights began to press and saw some immediate results. With the crowd of 4,788 worked up into a frenzy, UCF responded with a basket by senior center Kenrick Zondervan, followed by a transition layup by freshman guard Will Weathers to trim the lead to just eight points. ECU then suppressed the Knights run by a couple long range shots by senior guard Sam Hinnant, who finished with 22 points to lead the Pirates.

The Knights came back with another second half run, this time from the free throw line. UCF scored seven straight points, all from the line, to pull within four points at 58-54. After another UCF stop, Kenrick Zondervan grabbed an offensive rebound off an A.J. Tyler miss and laid it up to trim the lead to two. The Knights wouldn't quit as they pounced on the Pirates like they were a wounded animal. UCF would take the lead on a Jermaine Taylor three, and extended it to five at 67-62 as Taylor nailed yet another three point shot. The Knights would extend to a seven-point lead as Kenrick Zondervan capped his senior night with an emphatic two-handed slam dunk.

ECU was shell-shocked by the Knights 22-4 run, and head coach Mack McCarthy was forced to call a timeout to settle his troops.

"As soon as we took the lead, they didn't play at all anymore," senior center Kenrick Zondervan said. "They had to absorb that and digest it."

His team responded as they scored four straight to make a one possession game at 69-66 with just over two minutes to play. Pirates freshman forward Darrius Morrow then grabbed a rebound and was immediately fouled by Will Weathers. Morrow connected on one of two free throws to trim the UCF lead to two points at 69-67. Following a Darrius Morrow blocked shot, the Pirates quickly transitioned and sophomore guard Brock Young scored on a layup to knot the game at 69. Following a UCF turnover, Jamar Abrams recovered the ball and was then fouled by A.J. Tyler. Abrams proceeded to calmly hit both free throws to reclaim the lead for ECU.

The Knights then turned to their "Beast", Jermaine Taylor, who delivered with a driving layup while getting fouled to tie the game at 71. Taylor calmly connected on the ensuing free throw to put UCF up 72-71 with just 28 tics remaining. Senior Kenrick Zondervan, playing in his final game at the UCF Arena then stepped in front of a driving Sam Hinnant and took a charge with 2.7 seconds to go to secure the victory for UCF.

"I took the charge, I fell down on to the floor, and it was great when the ref called the charge," Zondervan said. "They usually don't call that at the end of the game, it's usually a blocking foul or a no call. When he made the call, I was going crazy. I was like ‘we got it! We got it!"

The win leaves UCF with a 17-13 record overall and a 7-9 conference record, which will earn them the sixth seed as a result of a tiebreaker over both Marshall and Tulane. The Knights will likely draw Rice at the C-USA Tournament in Memphis on Wednesday, at 2:30 p.m.

"I think we can definitely build off of this win," Taylor said. "We knew how hard we had to battle to come back, and now we know that if we come out with that same type of fight at the start of the game, it will be a whole different story."

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