Jan. 29, 2014
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By Andy Seeley
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) - CFE Arena was rocking in the second half Wednesday night when the Knights took the lead on a Matt Williams three-pointer early in the second half. It was raucous when Tristan Spurlock rocked the rim with a nasty put-back dunk.
And a raucous student section really got into it when the Knights pulled within three - 59-56 -- on an Isaiah Sykes layup with just more than six minutes remaining. Unfortunately, that was as close as UCF (9-9, 1-6) would get as No. 22 Memphis (16-4, 6-2) pulled away for a 69-59 victory.
UCF trailed by eight, 66-58, with three minutes left when Matt Williams was fouled on a three-point attempt. Williams knocked down one of his free throws. From there, the Knights had a turnover and saw two shots blocked, as the Tigers held on for the American Athletic Conference victory.
"We played 35 minutes of good basketball," UCF head coach Donnie Jones said. "When you play a team like Memphis - or any team in this league - you have to play 40. We had some shots that didn't go down early on and a few key turnovers down the stretch. Give Memphis credit. They made those plays and we did not. I'm still proud of this basketball team. We've just got to keep our head up, compete and continue to work."
Sykes showed why he is one of the most versatile players in the league, despite the loss, versus the Tigers. The only American Athletic Conference player in the top 15 in the league statistics in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and field-goal percentage, Sykes was all over the court. He scored a game-high 24 points on 12-of-22 shooting, grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds and dished out five of UCF's 10 assists. Williams was the only other Knight in double figures, finishing with 13 points, including four three-pointers.
"I was just going out there and playing as hard as I can, doing whatever I've got to do" Sykes said. "I was just feeding off my teammates. They've got confidence in me, as well as I have confidence in them. We're all just trying to help each other out."
UCF provided one of its best first-half performances of the season. The Knights shot 50 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes and went into the locker room knotted up at 39-39 with the nationally-ranked Tigers. Sykes scored 16 of his 24 and grabbed seven of his 12 boards in the first 20 minutes. Williams had a big first half as well, knocking down three of UCF's four three-pointers in the first half to tally nine points.
But the pace slowed considerably for both squads in the second half, with Memphis scoring 30 points and the Knights mustering just 20. After Sykes' aforementioned layup that pulled UCF within three points, Memphis answered with a three-pointer from Chris Crawford and a layup from Geron Johnson to push its lead to eight, 64-56. The Knights did not convert a field goal in the final 4:30 and scored just one point over that span.
UCF out-rebounded Memphis 36-31 and racked up 14 offensive boards, leading to a 19-2 advantage in second-chance points. But the Tigers countered with an 17-4 edge in fast-break points. Memphis also got more production from its bench, holding an 18-11 advantage.
UCF will be in action again Saturday, when they travel to face No. 7 Louisville, which hosts Cincinnati Thursday night.