ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF had a half-dozen dunks to roust the crowd and drilled another nine 3-pointers on a feel-good Monday night that seemed to be just what the Knights needed.
Taking a momentary break from Conference USA action, UCF snapped a two-game losing streak by throttling Palm Beach Atlantic 84-69 before 4,529 fans at the UCF Arena.
UCF (16-6) led by as many as 28 points in the second half before things got somewhat sloppy late in the closing minutes. Palm Beach Atlantic (4-17) used a 16-0 run to get within 12 points of the lead, but the Knights were never seriously threatened.
The non-conference game allowed the Knights to bounce back from a C-USA loss to Southern Miss on Saturday. Throughout the game, the Knights tossed alley oops, had run-out dunks and played with the swagger of a team that still firmly believes it is in the midst of a special season.
``We never lost our confidence. We know what happened last year and we're just not going there again,'' UCF junior guard Marcus Jordan said. ``We took a bump in the road, but it happens because (C-USA) is a talented conference and any night it can go either way. We'll try to limit (the mistakes) and if we do that we should win a lot of games the rest of the way.''
Jordan bounced back from a couple of tough shooting nights, made five 3-pointers and scored a team-high 17 points. Isaiah Sykes had three dunks and 14 points, while promising freshman forward Kasey Wilson poured in 15 points off the bench.
The Knights will have a few days off now to prepare for their stretch run of C-USA play ahead. UCF plays next in Dallas on Saturday at 3 p.m against SMU. The Knights are back at home on Feb. 8 against bitter rival Marshall. UCF lost 65-64 at Marshall on Jan. 14.
``This week is important for the physical side because we'll have a chance to rest and the mental side too because we'll have a chance over three days to practice and improve on some things that you don't have a chance to do when you are preparing for the next game,'' UCF head coach Donnie Jones said. ``The focus will be on us Wednesday and Thursday and then Friday we'll focus on SMU. We'll have two good days to focus on some adjustments and really have a chance to improve.''
Jones improved to 20-0 in his time with the Knights against non-league teams at home. The Knights play eight more C-USA games this season before beginning play in the conference tournament on March 7.
Wilson, a true freshman from North Port, has shown tremendous promise in short bursts off the bench throughout the season. Monday's game offered him his first extended playing time in weeks, and he responded by making seven of 10 shots. He had five rebounds and two dunks to go along with his career-best 15 points.
``I wasn't really used to that, but it felt good to get out there and contribute to a win,'' said Wilson, who played 20 minutes.
UCF did as it pleased in the first half and led 43-25 at the break. The Knights closed the first half with three straight 3-pointers, including the first one of Sykes' career.
Eight different Knights scored in the first half as Jones experimented with different rotations and groupings. UCF shot 47.1 percent in the first 20 minutes, while hitting five 3-pointers.
Jordan, who planned on getting plenty of rest over the next four days in hopes of curing some of his bumps and bruises, said Monday's game was fun for the team because it allowed many of the younger players such as Rod Days (four points), Wayne Martin (three points, three rebounds) and Wilson to show what they can do on the collegiate level.
``We knew if we played the best that we could and maybe get out to a big lead that it would allow some of the younger guys to play,'' Jordan said. ``We wanted to watch their hard work in practice pay off for them in a game and that's what happened.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.