March 3, 2005
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Sophomore Josh Peppers scored a game-high 16 points and senior Gary Johnson added 14 points as the UCF men's basketball team eased to an 81-68 Atlantic Sun Championship quarterfinal victory over Mercer on Thursday afternoon. The Golden Knights (22-8), seeded second, advance to the semifinals and will play the No. 3 Belmont/No. 6 Georgia State winner at 9:15 p.m. on Friday.
Seventh-seeded Mercer (16-12) trailed the entire game and shot just 11 percent from three-point range for the contest.
"I'm proud of our guys and the focus and effort that we had in the first half," said UCF head coach Kirk Speraw. "We were able to make it difficult for Mercer to get easy looks at the basket, and when they did, they seemed to be unable to knock down some open looks."
Behind six early points from junior Anthony Williams, UCF raced out to an 11-6 lead. When Peppers drained one of his three first-half treys, the Golden Knights went ahead 30-12 with 9:38 on the clock.
In the first half, UCF hit 8-of-14 (57 percent) from deep and shot 53.3 percent overall. Johnson hit all four of his three-point field goal attempts in the opening period and scored all 14 of his total points in the half.
UCF has won its last six games and 10 of its last 11.
Junior Marcus Johnson pushed the Golden Knight advantage to 24, hitting a jumper with two minutes to play in the period. After Peppers nailed a three as the horn sounded, UCF led, 45-24 at halftime.
"We got established on defense early, which put them [Mercer] in somewhat of a slump and took them out of their game," said Peppers. "We built off of that and that is where we got our momentum from."
UCF is looking to defend its 2004 A-Sun Championship crown. Since 2003, the Golden Knights are 6-1 at the event.
Peppers was 5-of-8 from behind-the-arc, with his five treys matching a career high. Gary Johnson
added seven boards and Williams finished with 12 points despite playing just 17 minutes due to foul trouble.
Senior Kingsley Edwards scored seven points and added seven rebounds. Junior Justin Rose recorded 10 points off the bench, including an emphatic second-half dunk over Mercer's Andrew Walker that brought the Golden Knight fans in attendance to their feet.
The Bears came out aggressive in the second half, starting the period on an 11-4 run and came within 14 points with 15:50 on the clock after a jumper by James Odoms.
A three by Peppers and a jumper from Rose pushed the UCF edge back to 19.
Mercer shot 39.4 percent from the floor for the game and made only 2 of its 18 three-point attempts. Odoms paced the team with 14 points. Wesley Duke chipped in with 13 points and Will Emerson registered 11 points and six assists.
Friday's semifinal game will be aired live on CSS (Comcast Sports South). The contest will also be broadcast on the UCF ISP Sports Network and its flagship station, 740-THE TEAM (AM).