Jan. 18, 2014
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By Andy Seeley
ORLANDO,Fla. (UCFKnights.com) - The UCF men's basketball team couldn't overcome 19 turnovers and the loss of leading scorer Isaiah Sykes early in the second half Saturday. The Knights (9-7, 1-4 American Athletic Conference) dropped a 58-46 decision to SMU (13-4, 3-2) at CFE Arena.
The contest was tied 22-22 at halftime. The Knights grabbed a 24-22 lead on a Daiquan Walker layup less than one minute into the second half. But on the next trip down the floor, Sykes went down hard under the basket and did not return to the game.
SMU took a 29-27 lead on a Nic Moore three-point play two minutes later. A Nick Russell layup pushed the Mustangs' lead to 31-27. UCF cut the deficit to one point on a Tristan Spurlock three-pointer, one of three triples in the game for the senior. The Knights were still within one point, 35-34, with 12 minutes remaining.
But Sykes' absence and turnovers began to cause problems for UCF. The Knights committed three turnovers in the next five minutes and struggled to score, missing a three-pointer and a pair of layups. SMU took advantage of the miscues and strung together a 15-3 run, taking a 50-37 lead with 5:04 remaining. UCF couldn't get back within single digits again, eventually falling by 12.
"We just made too many young mistakes offensively that hurt us," UCF head coach Donnie Jones said. "And turnovers. I thought that was a big difference in the game."
UCF put an emphasis on defense coming into the game and it paid off. The Knights had been allowing more than 80 points per game in conference play and held SMU to 15 points below their season average.
"I was proud of our effort and thought our guys competed hard," Jones said. "I thought defensively we took another step as a team today against a very good SMU team. I thought we grinded it out physically and put ourselves to be in position to be in the game down the stretch without Isaiah Sykes."
Spurlock was the only double-figure scorer for the Knights, tallying 11 points. He was 3-of-9 from three-point range and added a pair of free throws. Daiquan Walker, making his first start since November, added nine points and a game-high nine rebounds. Markus Kennedy tallied a game-high 15 points for SMU, while Moore added 11.
UCF is back in action again Thursday, when they travel to Cincinnati to face the nationally-ranked Bearcats. Tipoff from Fifth Third Arena is set for 9 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network and will air locally on 740 The Game.