ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — B.J. Taylor led the way with 21 points Thursday night, but it was UCF’s relentless effort and a clutch 3-point bucket from Aubrey Dawkins with 1:37 left that resulted in a 73-67 victory over UConn.
Colin Smith added 11 points and reserve Ceasar DeJesus scored 11 as the Knights’ bench outscored their counterparts 23-4. No points were bigger than Dawkins dagger of a 3-pointer. The junior guard who came into the game averaging 15.4 points per game had just six points until nailing a trey — with an assist from Taylor — that stretched UCF’s lead to 65-60. The Knights kept a two-possession lead from there.
“UConn had it going at that time,” Taylor said. “That was a big shot for us because it killed their momentum.”
UCF (16-4, 6-2 American Athletic Conference) had a stranglehold on the opponents’ basket for most of the game until UConn began heating up. The Huskies nailed 6 of 12 from 3-point range and shot 53 percent from the field in the second half.
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Jalen Adams was cooking after the break, anchoring multiple mini-runs for UConn.
The guard scored 22 of his 27 points in the second half for the Huskies (12-9, 3-5). Christian Vital scored 10 points and Josh Carlton contributed 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.
UCF clawed a few critical balls away late, leading to a parade at the free-throw line where they hit 15 more than UConn.
DeJesus came in late in the game, nailing a couple of critical acrobatic layups that helped keep the Huskies at bay.
“He’s tough to guard and he’s tough to keep out of the paint,” Taylor said. “When he comes off the bench and gives us that kind of spark, it’s tough to defend us.”
DeJesus said that what fueled their defense was the teams’ attention to slowing down Adams as much as possible.
“We all decided as a team to just play hard on defense,” DeJesus said. “Cut his water off and make all his shots hard.”
The interior for UCF was instrumental in gaining control of the game. The Knights had a plus-10 scoring advantage inside as both teams grabbed 30 rebounds.
Tacko Fall got things started for the Knights, controlling the opening tip and the early momentum. The big man scored the game’s first five points, then blocked Jalen Adams on a baseline jumper on one end and finished off an and-1 on the other. The Huskies responded with a 5-2 run to get within two points, but that was the closest they’d get as the Knights would eventually go on a 14-4 run to push their lead to as many as 15.
Adams struggled mightily for UConn, nearly going scoreless in the first half while committing four turnovers. But with 2:33 left in the half, UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins was called for a technical, gifting Adams with two free throws which he knocked in, getting him on the scoreboard. Adams then hit a 3-pointer from the right corner before the buzzer to cut the Huskies deficit to 34-22 at halftime.
“I thought the first-half defense was some of the best first-half defense that we’ve played all year,” Dawkins said. “To hold them to 22, says a lot about our guys.”
GILBERT MISSES GAME
UConn guard Alterique Gilbert missed his first game of the season after injuring his left shoulder against Wichita State in the teams’ previous contest. The Huskies redshirt sophomore is the third leading scorer (13 points) and second on the team in minutes (29.2 per game).
UConn: With the Huskies loss on Thursday night, they fall to 0-4 on the road this season, bringing up some of the same struggles that befell them last season when they finished 2-9 in the opponent’s gym.
UCF: The Knights victory marks their 11th overall at home this season and their 10th consecutive. This was UCF’s first season sweep of UConn and its fourth straight win in the series.
UConn: The Huskies play ECU at home on Sunday.
UCF: The Knights host No. 13 Houston on Feb. 7.