Feb. 9, 2014
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By Andy Seeley
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) – UConn (18-5, 6-4 The American) took advantage of a big first-half run, then held off a late charge from UCF (9-12, 1-9) Sunday evening at CFE Arena.
Behind a red-hot start from Isaiah Sykes, UCF held an 18-17 lead midway through the first half. Sykes scored 10 of his game-high 17 points in the first 10 minutes of the contest. But the Huskies held the Knights scoreless for the next three-plus minutes to put together a 9-0 run. The Knights got a bucket from Brandon Goodwin and a free throw from Kasey Wilson to make it 26-21.
Another UConn run – this time a 10-point spurt – was sparked by a Shabazz Napier 3-point field goal. All told, the Huskies outscored UCF 24-6 over the final 10 minutes of the second half. The Huskies used that offensive outburst to take a 17-point lead into the locker room, 41-24.
“It’s hard to get down that big in the first half and we just continue to have a hard time guarding the basketball,” UCF head coach Donnie Jones said. “We went man. We went zone. Even in zone, we gave up 48 points in the paint. That’s just too much.”
The Huskies maintained that 17-point edge through the first eight minutes of the second half. But UCF wouldn’t go away. The Knights made a big run, sparked by freshman Justin McBride. The 6-foot 10-inch, 310-pound big man scored his first collegiate points Sunday night, erupting for 13 in the final 15 minutes.
McBride’s layup off an assist from Steven Haney with 11:18 left started an 11-4 run. When Kasey Wilson hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with 7:21 remaining, the Knights had pulled back within eight, 57-49. But that’s as close as they would get. UConn answered with a Phillip Nolan put-back to push its lead back to 10 and UCF wouldn’t get back within single digits.
McBride wasn’t even medically-cleared to play until early January, after coming off reconstructive knee surgery. He had seen sparing action in just four games prior to the coming-out party against the Huskies.
“There were some positives with Justin McBride,” Jones said. “We’re happy for him. We know what he’s capable of; we recruited him out of high school. No one’s went through more than he has with knee surgery and having to go through everything he has to and he’s still nowhere near where he can get to. So, there’s a bright spot for him tonight. He needed that confidence for how hard he’s worked, so that was positive. “
McBride scored his 13 points in 13 minutes on 5-of-6 shooting from the field and was 3-of-5 at the line. Sykes added five assists and five rebounds to go with his 17 points. Napier and Lasan Kromah scored 17-points each to lead six Huskies in double digits.
The Knights are back in action again Wednesday night at Memphis.