"I thought in today's game, we did a nice job of taking (Jermaine) Taylor out of the game," Southern Miss head coach Larry Eustachy said. "He struggled with the way we chose to match up with him in this zone."
The game began similar to a prize fight, as both opponents were hesitant and feeling each other out. The UCF crowd was energized as Jermaine Taylor flew in a tomahawk dunk from outside the lane to give the Knights an early 7-4 advantage. The dunk seemed to energize the Southern Miss team as they immediately went on a 17-2 run to take a 12 point advantage.
"In the first time-out, I thought there was good energy," UCF head coach Kirk Speraw said. "We were playing pretty well defensively, pushing the ball hard, and doing some things we thought were good. Then, we just got away from it. We hit a dry spell and turned it over, I think, four out of seven possessions after that first media timeout."
The Knights cut the Southern Miss lead to single digits after an A.J. Tyler three point shot, but the Golden Eagles answered right back as senior guard Craig Craft drilled a 25-foot three of his own. Southern Miss closed the half on a 13-4 run to take a 42-25 lead at the break. Craig Craft led the Eagles with 14 points in the first half, while Jeremy Wise added 10 more. The Knights were led by A.J. Tyler, who has 11 points and six rebounds, while C-USA Player of the Year Jermaine Taylor has just six points while hitting on just 2-8 from the field.
Southern Miss began the second half just as they ended the first half, as they went on a 9-0 run to push their lead to 26 points in the opening three minutes. UCF looked befuddled as there was nothing but blank stares on the faces of the players. Although UCF has pulled off dramatic comebacks this season, this did not have the feel of one of those games.
The closest UCF would get in the second half was 21 points, as Southern Miss had an answer for anything the Knights threw at them. They began to break the Knights press with ease, and then held the ball to run down the shot clock en route to the easy, 77-53 victory.
"Our players were very determined and I'm proud of them," Eustachy said.
The quartet of Jeremy Wise, Courtney Beasley, R.L. Horton, and Craig Craft killed the Knights all game long as they were able to knock down big shot after big shot. The group combined for 70 of the Golden Eagles 77 points, led by Beasley and Wise who had 19 a piece. That quartet also grabbed 25 rebounds, equaling the total of the entire UCF team.
"That's all we've been talking about all year, was going out there with our best determination, Eustachy said about his teams rebounding. "We have to outrebound teams and we have to out-loose ball teams for us to have a chance and that's what we haven't been doing the last five games."
UCF simply couldn't make shots, as evidenced by their 35.7% from the field (20-56). The Knights connected just five times from behind the arc in 28 attempts. Jermaine Taylor closed his fantastic UCF career by earning Player of the Year honors during the morning, and then connecting on just five of 16 shots as he finished with just 15 points.
"I think they did a good job of denying me the ball," Taylor said. "It seemed like every time I got it there was two or three guys on me, and I had no choice but to give it up. When I did have a good look, my shot just wasn't falling. I give them all the credit, they did a good job on the defensive end."
A.J. Tyler led the Knights with 16 points and six rebounds.
"Offensively I was just trying to be aggressive," Tyler said. "If the shot was there, I was going to take it. I didn't force anything and I was trying to be conscious of going to the offensive glass."
This is the third consecutive year that the Knights (17-14, 7-10 C-USA) lost to a lower seed in the first round of the C-USA tournament, the second consecutive year that it's been at the hands of Southern Miss.
Knights Trounced by Southern Miss
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