Written by Ernie Casanova
ORLANDO, FL— After a day full of basketball, the UCF Knights closed out the first round of the AAC Tournament with a matchup against the East Carolina Pirates. The Knights traveled a few miles across town ready to play and dominated the Pirates on every possession. After a great performance, UCF knocked of ECU by a score of 66-52 here at the Amway Center.
The Knights began the first half on a roll, scoring the first five points of the night and leading 5-0 in the first three minutes. After ECU’s Shawn Williams nailed a distant three-pointer to put the Pirates on the board, Knights forward A.J. Davis subsequently drained one of his own to keep the momentum afloat. Starting Knights guards B.J Taylor, and Davis led the team in scoring for the first ten minutes, as they were responsible for every one of the Knights’ points on the scoreboard. It wasn’t until a Dayon Griffin layup with just about 10 minutes left that the Knights had more than two players score a point.
The first half was a breeze for the Knights. They shot 60% from the beyond the arc and held the Pirates scoreless for a span of seven minutes. It was 11-9 when the Knights started to go on an 11-0 run. with exactly six minutes left to play in the half, ECU finally put points on the board with a tip-in by starting forward Jabari Craig, but it was silence from their offense again after that. The Knights were firing from all over the place, shooting 47% from the field with B.J Taylor leading the team with 10 points. A.J Davis and Ceasar DeJesus sat behind him with six points as both contributed crowd roaring three-pointers. Dayon Griffin also had six points as the Knights were spreading the ball consistently. ECU really couldn’t get up to speed on offense, having seven turnovers and shooting 33% from the floor. Starting guard Shawn Williams was making all the moves for the Pirates as he led the team with 10 points. At the end of the half, UCF led ECU by a score of 36-25.
The second half started off on the same pace as the Pirates didn’t have an answer for the hot shooting Knights. UCF quickly put points on the board with two consecutive shots and led ECU by 12 points at the 17-minute mark. After some back and forth during possessions, Griffin got open for the Knights and nailed a sensational three-point shot that seemed like it was from a mile away. The Knights were willing and able to attempt as many shots as possible, and contrary to previous games, they were connecting on the majority of them. The Pirates turned the ball over 10 times and received little to no help from their bench, but they wouldn’t go down without a fight.
With 12 minutes left in regulation, ECU cut an early large deficit down to six points and trailed the Knights 46-40. After a layup by starting guard B.J Tyson brought their point total up to 42, ECU regained possession and Tyson again scored by nailing a three-pointer to now cut the deficit to one point. Before we all knew it, ECU was now trailing UCF 46-45 after going a 13-0 run. The Knights were held scoreless for eight minutes, and it gave us a glimpse of what has held them back all year: finishing off strong.
After letting ECU spark a comeback, UCF got their groove back and held it together for the last seven minutes of the game. After a strong start, Knights guard B.J Taylor finished the game with 17 points and four assists. A.J Davis ended up with 14 points shooting 4-11 from the floor, while Ceasar DeJesus and Dayon Griffin each finished with nine points. ECU’s Shawn Williams led the team with 17 points and six assists while B.J Tyson finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. UCF forced 17 turnovers while committing eight of their own, and shot over 40% from the floor and beyond the arc. It was truly a spectacular game won for the Knights as they now take on the Houston Cougars in the second round of the AAC Tournament on Friday night.