Knights face Louisiana-Lafayette with targets on their backs
Published: Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, December 15, 2010 23:12
Anonymity has its benefits.
Attention can have its drawbacks.
Off to an 8-0 start and garnering praise from the college hoops world, the Knights are moving forward without much of the former and with an unprecedented amount of the latter.
Unofficially ranking 26th in the Associated Press poll and having analysts like Dick Vitale applauding the team may have the Knights wearing more than just their last name and number on their backs.
"It's definitely a lot different having the target on your back," said center Tom Herzog, after Saturday's 76-59 win over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats.
Herzog would know. A transfer from Michigan State, a championship contender year in and year out, Herzog is no stranger to teams coming in and giving their best effort.
The extra effort against the Knights is already taking effect.
Despite being overmatched physically by the Knights, Bethune-Cookman played the Knights tight, especially in the first half. The Wildcats gave a scrappy performance, with 10 lead changes in the first half, and were not intimidated by the Knight's big men, going blow-for-blow in points in the paint.
What's encouraging is that the Knights did what good teams should do. They found a way to not just win, but win comfortably by a double-digit margin.
Head coach Donnie Jones made adjustments at the half, and had a role-player step up big. In Saturday's case it was Herzog, who totaled 14 points and tied a school record for blocked shots with eight. Afterwards Jones stressed the importance of his team finding different ways to win as they continue on.
"Everything is an adjustment right now," explained Jones. "We're still trying to figure out who we are."
Going forward, the undefeated Knights will have to figure out who they are with more and more people watching as they enter conference play. Thanks to their flawless record and the attention from hoops analysts around the country, attendance at the UCF Arena is on the rise. Three of the programs' top-10 home crowds have been recorded already this season, with important at-home conference match-ups -- including one against the national powerhouse Memphis -- still looming. The average attendance is up to 5,961, an increase from last season's record setting average of 5,411.
Jones' job now not only includes improving his team on the floor, it also includes helping them keep their perspective.
"There's a lot of firsts going on right now for this basketball program and handling success is one of them," Jones said.
As Jones wrote in his blog Tuesday morning: there is no sneaking up on anyone, anymore. It's something his players seem to understand.
"We're just going to have to come play with a higher energy," said forward Keith Clanton.
The next test for the Knights will be at home against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns (1-7) Wednesday night. The Cajuns have been plagued with second half problems, squandering double-digit halftime leads twice this season, and have lost nine straight road games dating back to last season.
Despite Louisiana-Lafayette's rough start, Jones said they are a well-coached team under head coach Bob Marlin, who has beaten the Knights before while serving as the head coach of Sam Houston State.
After Saturday's game, Jones questioned whether his team gave Bethune-Cookman the level of respect they deserved, perhaps giving way to the very tight battle in the first half against the Wildcats. Hopefully for the Knights, that was enough of a wake-up call to avoid letting the Cajuns sneak up on them too.
"It's important for us to stay focused and respect everyone," Herzog said. "They're all Division I teams."
- When Tom Herzog checked out of the game for the final time Saturday after his spectacular performance he received a standing ovation, to which he said was the first ever of his collegiate career.
- Dick Vitale named Donnie Jones one of his "Coaches on the Rise" and guard Marcus Jordan one of his "All-Improved" players in his latest column for USA Today.
- In addition to their unofficial 26th ranking in the AP Poll, the Knights garnered enough votes to be unofficially ranked 33rd in the USA Today Coaches Poll
-The Knights are 1-8 all-time against the Ragin' Cajuns. The Knights won the last meeting during the 2007 season 65-52 at the UCF Arena (the only time they have played each other there). The two teams were conference opponents in the American South and Sun Belt conferences before the Knights joined Conference USA in 2005.