The UCF Knights improved their record to 3-0 as they beat up the Auburn Tigers in the first of three consecutive games at the Daytona Beach Ocean Center, 84-74. The final margin of just 10 points was not indicative of how UCF dominated, as Auburn connected on a handful of meaningless threes after the outcome was decided.
"It was just a good, tough game against an SEC team that's coming off a great year," Knights head coach Kirk Speraw said.
The Knights began their Friday evening contest against traditional SEC power Auburn by scoring the first 13 points of the game as they kept the Tigers scoreless for the better part of seven minutes. UCF showed great intensity on the defensive end and forced Auburn into several turnovers in the opening minutes.
"I'm proud of our guys for the effort they had, especially early," Speraw told reporters. "We kept them off balance early in the game."
Once Auburn got on the scoreboard with a DeWayne Reed three-pointer, the Tigers began to show that they belonged on the court as they traded buckets with the Knights, eventually slicing the UCF lead to 19-10 at the halfway point. After an A.J. Tyler bucket, Auburn called timeout and went on a 7-0 run, keyed by five points by Frankie Sullivan.
"They kept making runs at us, but I think we had a pretty decent response," Speraw said.
The Auburn run prompted Knights head coach Kirk Speraw to call a timeout, and his team responded by going on an 18-5 run to close the half to give the Knights a 41-24 advantage. Dave Diakite led a balanced first-half scoring by bucketing eight points and grabbing a team high eight rebounds. Taylor Young chipped in with eight points and three assists off the bench, and Marcus Jordan scored his first collegiate points as he hit a pair of free throws and later bucketed a three-point shot.
"There was great energy," Speraw said. "David Diakite was all over the place and the grittiness of the guards."
The second half began just as the first half ended as the UCF Knights were the team with more energy and effort. An A.J. Tyler three point shot put the Knights up 49-29 and it looked as if we were headed toward a blowout.
Then the Auburn Tigers woke up.
Auburn coach Jeff Lebo called a timeout and his team began to institute a full-court press. The Knights were surprised by the press and committed a myriad of turnovers which allowed the Tigers to get some easy transition opportunities.
"We got careless on a few possessions and our guards have to do a better job of handling the press," Speraw said following the game.
Auburn quickly trimmed the UCF lead from 20 to 10, and an Ernest Ross three sliced the Knights lead to 53-47.
"We knew they were going to come out hard," Knights point guard A.J. Rompza said. "I think they were just a little shocked, but we tried to stay calm and tried not to get too out of control, but there were times when we got out of control."
It was the Knights turn to go on another run and that's exactly what they did as they reeled off 11 straight points with contributions from senior A.J. Tyler, as well as freshmen Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan. The Auburn run in the beginning of the second half would prove to have taken too much energy out of them as the Knights eventually built their lead back up to 21.
"It was a good ball game for him (Tyler)," Speraw said. "He got some confidence by going inside and getting some baskets early then he stepped out and drilled a nice rhythm three late. I thought all our posts did a nice job."
The UCF crowd that made their way over to Daytona Beach was extremely enthusiastic as always, and they appeared to get into the heads of the Auburn players.
"It was amazing to have that many fans come out here, it was like a home game for us," senior forward A.J. Tyler said. "It really does motivate us having them behind us pushing forward."
A.J. Tyler led the Knights with – points while grabbing eight rebounds. Dave Diakite recorded his second consecutive double-double with a 12 point, 10 rebound performance, and the talented freshman duo of Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan combined for 17 points and seven rebounds.
"Keith (Clanton) and Marcus (Jordan) kind of got some things done tonight so that was good," the victorious coach said about his talented freshmen. "Keith is continuing to grow."
The still undefeated Knights will have a less than 24-hour turn-around as they face Niagra Saturday at 3:30.
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