UCF's Season of Firsts Comes to an End in NIT


GO KNIGHTS Keith Clanton led the Knights with 12 points at Drexel.
GO KNIGHTS
Keith Clanton led the Knights with 12 points at Drexel.
GO KNIGHTS

March 14, 2012

Final Stats

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By Doug Richards
UCFAthletics.com

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PHILADELPHIA (UCFAthletics.com) - The 2011-12 campaign was filled with firsts for the UCF men's basketball team. Unfortunately for the Knights, the program's first appearance in the National Invitation Tournament did not go as planned.

Making its NIT debut, the No. 6 seeded Knights were unable to top No. 3 Drexel, falling 81-56 at the Daskalakis Athletic Center Wednesday. The Knights, who conclude the season at 22-11, were led by Keith Clanton, who totaled 12 points, in the NIT first-round game.

The contest was played in front of a vocal crowd of 1,821 spectators at the cozy DAK as the Dragons (28-6) won their 17th-consecutive home game.

Drexel shot 50.9 percent overall for the game and made 11-of-24 (45.8 percent) of its 3-point attempts.

"Give them credit. They are very good basketball team," UCF head coach Donnie Jones said of Drexel. "They really hit some tough shots."

Drexel led for the entire contest, and the Knights cut the Dragons' advantage to nine points, 43-34, with 14:31 to play in the game when Tristan Spurlock nailed a triple. The Knights were unable to get closer as the hosts hit big shot after big shot and quickly built its lead to 14 points with 8:51 on the clock when Chris Fouch (19 points) hit one of his five 3-pointers.

"You have to continue to score when you are down," Jones said. "You need to chip away. We made a run and were right there, but give Drexel credit."

The Dragons played like an NCAA Tournament team from the start. The hosts opened the game on a 9-0 run and shot 53.6 percent overall and 7-of-12 (58.3 percent) from 3-point range in the opening stanza. The Dragons led by as many as 16 points in the first half and led 37-24 at the break.

The Knights shot 38.2 percent for the game. Clanton was the lone UCF player to finish with double digits in scoring. Spurlock and Kasey Wilson both scored nine points off the bench.

Playing in his final collegiate contest, A.J. Rompza totaled six points, four assists and a steal in 30 minutes. As expected, Rompza gave his all against the Dragons, and even picked up a steal - the 211th of his career - that led to a layup in the game's waning moments.

After the contest, Rompza admitted that the fact that he had played his last game as a Knight had not yet sunk in.

"It is something that will come with time," he said. "I don't think it has kicked in yet, it will probably over the next couple of days. You leave no regrets when you step on the court. You give it your all and you can't feel bad about it. There is nothing negative that you can take out of the situation. It has been an amazing experience for me."

The appearance in the NIT was another first achieved by the Knights this season. UCF defeated its first top-10 ranked team - No. 4 UConn - and registered its first victories over Conference USA foes Memphis and UAB. Last week, UCF advanced to the C-USA Championship for the first time since joining the league in 2005.

"I am proud of our season. We had a lot of firsts at our school," Jones said. "This was our first time in the NIT, and we were honored to be a part of this great event. We had some big wins. Our program has done some good things. Our kids battled some adversity and overcame a lot. We had 22 wins, and had back-to-back 20-win seasons. We return a lot of guys next year; we lose two seniors. We are excited about where we are headed."

 

 

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