There has been plenty of preseason hype surrounding the UCF Knights. Words like "Jordan," "Nike" and "Adidas" have put the program in the national spotlight. Throw in a memorable recruiting class and the burning question as to who will replace Jermaine Taylor and it you had the perfect recipe for an arena buzzing with excitement.
After the initial anticipation of fans peering into the skybox to see Michael Jordan, the 8,727 UCF faithful, which is the second-largest crowd in UCF history, started to see what their 2009 Knights would be about and they would not be disappointed.
The Knights put together a complete game to fend off the visiting Massachusetts Minutemen, 84-67.
"I'm proud of our guys," said UCF coach, Kirk Speraw. "They battled hard, they tried to take care of the details and take care of what we wanted them to take care of. They maintained their poise, especially in that first half when we got down by seven."
UCF took a 13-4 lead to start the game but by five minutes into the first half, UMass took a seven point lead. The third youngest team in the nation refused to fold however and the Knights stormed back to regain the lead by halftime.
"As a young team we could have gave in and put our heads down but we showed a lot of maturity, we stayed strong," said point guard A.J. Rompza in regards to the Knights battling back from the first half deficit. "I just think we played really well as a young team."
Facing adversity early, a lot of questions surrounding the team through the offseason team were answered early on.
The most pressing was who would replace Jermaine Taylor, UCF's 23 point per game scorer from a year ago and Isaac Sosa resolved that concern with an exclamation point. The sophomore guard made it known that he was capable of carrying the scoring load on any given night, as he finished with 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting, including six three-pointers.
While one game might be too early to dub Sosa as "the man" for UCF, his confidence and pure stroke are certainly starting points for the Knights. His killer instinct also was noteworthy, as he nailed a jumper off a head fake to put the Knights up 11. Massachusetts's Freddie Riley responded with a three to bring the game back to single digits but Sosa made sure that was short lived when he made a three immediately after to bump UCF's lead to 12. Speraw was one of just many in attendance that was impressed by Sosa's performance
"Isaac has worked very hard to improve his defense and he's got a lot better at that," said Speraw. "We always knew he could shoot the basketball. I was kind of shocked when I looked at the stat sheet and he had 26."
Sosa wasn't the only Knight that displayed grit on defense. The Knights held a young but explosive UMass team to 33 percent shooting and perhaps the biggest feat of the night was disrupting Ricky Harris, the Minutemen's leading scorer from last season. Harris averaged over 18 points per game last year and had just 15 on the evening.
Two other causes of preseason anticipation involved the players UCF's recruiting class, namely Marcus Jordan. First there was Shoegate, which was the controversy surround the son of the NBA great, Michael Jordan, and his decision to wear Nikes. That in turn caused Adidas to cancel their $3 million sponsorship with the university. Jordan did indeed wear Nike's and his father was in attendance but fans quickly forgot those externals concerns and concentrated on his game.
Jordan appeared overanxious and forced several shots and passes, going 0-for-2 while also logging three turnovers. The true freshman that did live up to expectations though was Keith Clanton. The Orlando native displayed a lot of finesse for a big man and he also didn't shy away from contact, as he did a lot of damage on the glass, finishing with nine points and eight boards.
UCF will try to go 2-0 as they host Howard next Tuesday. While there may not be a summer's worth of fervor built up or Michael Jordan sitting over the crowd, the Knights will have momentum and confidence on their side.
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