March 6, 2005
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Senior Gary Johnson scored a game-high 19 points as the UCF men's basketball team defeated top-seeded Gardner-Webb, 63-54, to claim the 2005 Atlantic Sun Championship crown on Saturday afternoon at the Curb Event Center.
No. 2 UCF (24-8) claims its second consecutive title and fourth overall. Johnson earned the tournament's MVP honor.
"I'm very proud of our guys and the intensity and focus that we had for three-straight ballgames," said UCF head coach Kirk Speraw. "I think it was exceptional consistency and determination that these young men showed to try to repeat as champions."
UCF led by as many as 19, but the Bulldogs (18-12) hung around, getting within 11 with five minutes to play after Brian Bender hit a three. The Golden Knights squashed any comeback attempt, scoring on its next possession when senior Kingsley Edwards found junior Justin Rose for a dunk.
"We had an opportunity to pull away, but they [Gardner-Webb] kept coming back at us," said Speraw. "That shows a lot of character on their side."
Sophomore Josh Peppers added 14 points, six boards and four steals in the victory. He joined Johnson on the all-tournament squad.
The Golden Knights used a 15-2 spurt to close the first half to pull away. Johnson started the run, canning a three-pointer to knot the game at 14 with 6:39 to play.
When Marcus Johnson grabbed an offensive board, scored on the putback and was fouled, his traditional three-point play handed UCF a 24-16 advantage.
Gardner-Webb's last points of the half came with 5:49 on the clock. The Bulldogs shot just 23.1 percent in the period and trailed, 26-16, at intermission.
A trey by Peppers with 13 minutes on the clock handed UCF a 41-22 edge, its largest of the game.
Gary Johnson canned three triples in the contest to give him 96 for the year. That mark is good for first on the school's single-season register.
The 54 points scored by Gardner-Webb was the Bulldogs lowest output of the season.
"We came out with the mindset that we would lockup on the defensive end," said Peppers. "We knew that if we did that, the offense would come."
For the game, the Golden Knights shot 43.5 percent from the field, compared to 35.1 percent for Gardner-Webb. Off the bench, Rose finished with 11 points. Edwards posted six assists.
The Golden Knights have won eight straight games and 12 of 13 overall.
Bender, who finished with 17 points, joined teammate Simon Conn (15 points, seven rebounds), on the all-tournament team.
UCF will now wait until "Selection Sunday," March 13, to learn who the team will play in the NCAA Tournament.