Holiday Classic tournament a success for UCF
Published: Sunday, January 2, 2011
Updated: Sunday, January 2, 2011 19:01
Whether or not an undefeated run through the Knights' out-of-conference schedule was written into this season's To-Do list is irrelevant: It happened.
The No. 19 Knights (13-0) are still unbeaten, and have added some hardware along the way of their impressive hot start to the 2010-2011 campaign.
The Knights won their home tournament, the UCF Holiday Classic, after a 68-62 victory over the Princeton Tigers (10-4) on Thursday at the UCF Arena.
The Knights defeated the Tigers in the championship round of the four-team event after defeating the Furman Paladins the previous night 71-53 in the opening round.
The pair of games represented the first back-to-back matchups for the Knights this season and gave them a taste of tournament-style scheduling and the challenge of preparing for a team in less than a day.
"When you have one day to prep and you don't have a chance to really study your opponent, you have to learn on the fly, and [Princeton] a very tough team to do that against," said head coach Donnie Jones. "That's what you get when you play in the NCAA tournament. You have a short period of time; you play different styles.
That's why it so important to play teams like this in your non-conference schedule."
The experience was proven to be especially valuable when the Knights, after handling Furman behind Keith Clanton's 21 points on Wednesday night, struggled with Princeton early on.
The Tigers went on an 8-0 run to start the game, and led by eight going into the half. Princeton, anchored in the first half by sharp-shooting guard Dan Mavraides and his 18 points before the break, looked poised to spoil UCF's streak.
That's when UCF Holiday Classic MVP Marcus Jordan took over.
"I don't really ever want to see somebody killing us like he did in the first half," Jordan said. "I just wanted to come out on him and change what he saw in the first half."
And he did.
Mavraides was limited to two second half points, and appeared visually frustrated while Jordan, who'd had only four points the half, went off for 22 the rest of the game and helped will his team to victory.
"[Jordan] makes plays, you keep going to him if he's making it," said forward Keith Clanton when asked about how often the ball was in Jordan's hands down the stretch of the victory.
In a back-and-forth game that saw seven second-half lead changes, the Knights were finally able to pull away late in the game, sealing the deal with some free throws and a thunderous dunk by forward A.J. Tyler, one that came courtesy of a successful break of the Princeton press.
The team's ability to withstand the early adversity against the Tigers, down by as many as 10, and implement the necessary adjustments, impressed Jones.
"That's who these guys are, they're a unique group," Jones said. "They don't panic. They just really stay focused in trying to find a way to win."
The inside-outside threat of Jordan and Clanton was utilized by UCF in the short tournament, with Clanton stepping up big in the first game, and Jordan in the next.
"Coach just tells us both to be aggressive," Clanton said. "We're clicking well and we have a lot of plays (where) we're allowed to work off each other."
The Knights have a chance at revenge against Marshall. UCF is 4-6 all time against the Herd, with Marshall having won the last three contests.
Win and they will come. The success of the Knights and it's correlation to attendance was apparent against Furman. An announced crowd of 7,111 came to watch the Knights in the Holiday Classic on Wednesday.
Among those in Wednesday's record crowd were Orlando Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu and Magic reserve-point guard Jason Williams.
The number of unbeatens keeps getting smaller, and UCF remains among them. The Knights are now one of seven unbeaten teams left.
UCF continues to play through the pain. Marcus Jordan has been playing through an ankle injury and has yet to practice since sustaining it. Tom Herzog just removed the cast from his left hand, and the recently returned Tyler is still not at 100 percent.
…And a happy new year
Just after midnight on New Years Day, the No.4 high school center in the nation, four-star recruit Michael Chandler, committed to UCF.
Chandler decided to be a Knight after being courted by several teams, including Kentucky, Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana and West Virginia, among others, after decommitting from Xavier.
Chandler watched UCF take down Princeton before deciding.