Harvard loss kills buzz of win over UConn
Published: Saturday, November 26, 2011
Updated: Sunday, November 27, 2011 15:11
The UCF Knights (4-2) went to one of the world's premier vacation spots for a business trip.
Along the way, coach Donnie Jones' squad notched the most significant win in the program's history.
Returning home to Orlando following three games in three days as part of the inaugural Battle 4 Atlantis, an eight-team tournament held at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, the Knights now have a better of idea of who they are in this early season.
They showed their strengths, and they showed their vulnerabilities. In short, it was quite the trip.
The Knights' historic 68-63 win over the defending national champions, the Connecticut Huskies (6-1), put the Knights in the Battle 4 Atlantis' inaugural championship round. They would then face the Harvard Crimson (6-0), a team fresh off its own huge upset, that being a 46-41 win over then-No. 20 Florida State.
From the beginning, it was apparent UCF was running out of gas playing for the third consecutive day, especially junior forward Keith Clanton and junior guard Marcus Jordan. The two stars combined for only 22 points, and none of the Knights' role players truly stepped up, with the team shooting 33 percent on the game.
In stark contrast, Harvard came out swinging as a team, with a very disciplined and patient offensive tempo, one that wore down UCF's defense.
The Knights could get no closer than 10 points in the second half and fell 59-49 in the tournament's championship.
"We played three different teams and played three different styles," Jones said in a release. "If you want to be a good team, you have to be ready to face every style of play. Give Harvard credit. They are a very good team, and they are going to win a lot of games."
It was a stark contrast from their earlier defeat of the then-No. 4 Huskies.
The Knights brought a visible effort early and throughout the game against UConn, but they appeared overmatched in the first half and the start of the second. Sequences in the contest harkened back to UCF's recent loss to in-state opponent Florida State, with similar difficulties guarding UConn's big men and hitting jump shots, as they experienced in Tallahassee.
Down 50-33 at one point in the second half, the Knights looked overwhelmed.
Then, Clanton knocked down a three-pointer. And UCF scored again, and again, with the resulting 17-2 scoring run bringing the Knights within a bucket. Also pivotal in the drastic changes of events was Jones switching up defenses against the Huskies, employing either a zone or a man-to-man defense dependent on the situation down the stretch, a strategy that rattled UConn's young backcourt.
Along with Clanton, Jordan stepped up big, especially down the stretch. The pair of juniors scored 20 points each, with some of Jordan's points coming in the form of free throws in the game's waning moments. Jordan also chipped in seven rebounds and seven assists.
When it was all said and done, the Huskies could not regain form following the Knights' big run, and UCF had notched the basketball program's most important win ever, winning 68-63.
"I am proud of the defense that everyone played," Jordan said. "I think the old cliché is good defense wins championships. I think everyone stepped up and played the best they could and ultimately we won."
Thanksgiving Day played host to the start of action in the Bahamas, with UCF taking the College of Charleston Cougars (5-1), a participant in last year's postseason National Invitation Tournament.
Riding Clanton's 28 points, a career best, and an 18-5 run to close the contest, the Knights handed the Cougars their first and only loss of the young season. Jordan pitched in 17 points of his own, along with six assists.
"Keith had a double-double. Marcus ran our team. Those guys led our team, and we got some good efforts from guys off the bench," Jones said. "We are really excited. We know that College of Charleston is going to be a postseason team."
What we learned
Winning two out of the three contests they participated in on Paradise Island, the Knights displayed more positives than negatives in the holiday tournament.
Clanton and Jordan showed just how lethal of a combination they can be, being a collective dominant force in the two wins. Not only did the two shoulder the scoring load in the Battle 4 Atlantis, but they both had rebounded well and Jordan, running the point in the absence of ineligible senior A.J. Rompza, distributed the ball and got his teammates involved, piling up assists, as well.
Unfortunately, when neither player was able to play at as high a level in the tournament's championship, UCF's role players were unable to step up. It was a situation begging for players such as sophomore Tristan Spurlock, senior Jeff Jordan, sophomore Isaiah Sykes and freshman Rod Days to rise up.