ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Led by senior forward Keith Clanton, UCF held off a late surge by Belmont to win its sixth UCF Holiday Tournament title with a 66-63 triumph over the Bruins Saturday night. Clanton, who earned tournament MVP honors, scored a tournament-high 26 points and added 10 rebounds, three assists and a pair of blocks.
UCF (9-3) never trailed against the Bruins, who entered the contest rated 14th nationally in the RPI, and then withstood Belmont's (9-4) rally. After trailing by as many as 13 points in the second half, the Bruins got within two points with 35 seconds left after Trevor Noack nailed a 3-pointer. After Calvin Newell nailed a free throw to give the hosts a 64-61 edge with 18 seconds left, the Knights clamped down defensively and forced Kerron Johnson to take an off-balance layup, which fell short.
"That is a good basketball team. There is a reason why they won 27 games last year," UCF head coach Donnie Jones said. "I knew that it would be a battle all the way down the stretch. This team was 16th RPI in the country and went in and beat Stanford, who won the NIT last year. This is a great win for our program."
Joining Clanton on the all-tournament squad was sophomore forward Kasey Wilson. The North Port native littered the box score in the two contests, combining for 19 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks and a pair of treys in the victories over Howard and Belmont.
Despite playing its second contest in 24 hours, the Knights showed off energy early and raced out to an 8-2 edge to start the game and led 33-21 at the break after limiting Belmont to only 25.7 percent shooting overall and 1-of-11 (9.1 percent) shooting from deep in the opening stanza.
UCF advanced to the title game with a 62-45 win over Howard Friday. The 45 points scored by the Bison were the sixth-fewest allowed by the Knights since the program moved to the Division I level in 1984.
UCF and Belmont were meeting for the first time since 2005. Both programs competed in the Atlantic Sun in the early 2000s.
UCF shot 42.9 percent overall and 47.4 percent from 3-point range. Belmont shot 37.3 percent from the floor and 26.9 percent from behind the arc. The Bruins were led by Ian Clark's 21 points. Johnson, Dom Morris of Boston University and Calvin Thompson of Howard also made the all-tournament team.
The Knights will return to action on Wednesday, Jan. 2, when they host cross-state rival USF. Tipoff is 8 p.m. and the game will air nationally on CBS Sports Network.