Sykes' clutch free throws help Knights past Bethune-Cookman
Published: Saturday, December 10, 2011
Updated: Monday, December 12, 2011 17:12
Isaiah Sykes scored the last six points for UCF (6-2), as the Knights found a way to rally back from being down by as many as 12, defeating the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (3-6) 53-51 Saturday night at the UCF Arena.
For Sykes, four of those six points came on some crucial free throws, including the last two that put the Knights ahead by two with 3.5 second remaining. For the sophomore guard, who struggled mightily with free throws as a freshman and again at times this season, it was a sweet reward for the extra work he has been putting in. Sykes was the first player at the UCF Arena, working on free throws, and his been shooting an extra 100 free throws on a regular basis.
"You try to block everything and focus in, as if you're in there by yourself in the arena," said Sykes, who finished with a game high 15 points (seven-of-nine from the free throw line). "[My teammates] give me a lot of confidence."
The Wildcats were led by guard Kevin Dukes, who came off the bench to make some big three pointers and finish with 13 points.Trailing 48-39 with 5:36 to go, UCF mounted a 14-3 run, anchored by energy plays and a rowdy announced crowd of 4,723.
"It energized us a lot," senior forward P.J. Gaynor said of home crowd.
"We feed off of that."Gaynor himself contributed greatly to the energy in the building, coming off the bench to play 30 minutes and score nine points, four of which came on dunks that pumped up the crowd."I just try to do whatever I can to bring as much energy to the team as possible," Gaynor said.
The Knights, who were without starting guard Marcus Jordan (per violation of team rules), struggled to find their rhythm on offense against a Bethune-Cookman team that limited the number of possessions, consistently slowing the game down.
"I told our guys (we'd) like to play a 75 to 80 possession game and then you play teams like Bethune who hold the ball, they're going to make it a 50 to 55 possession game sometimes," head coach Donnie Jones said. "You have to make every opportunity you've got the ball count."
That wasn't the case in the first half, where UCF committed 12 turnovers and went into the break trailing by six. But the Knights made some adjustments and overcame the Wildcats and themselves down the stretch.
"Second half we had [only three] turnovers," said Jones. "Down the stretch, six minutes to go, we called a time out and thought that was a time we could press. We was either going to get blown out or we were going to get back in the game."
It wasn't what Jones would have liked, playing a Bethune-Cookman team that had lost two of their last three games and was greatly undersized against the Knights wing players, but the second-year coach commended his team's ability to rally and pull out a victory.
"I think we've got great toughness and I think we did a good job not getting caught up in the score and playing the next basket," Jones said. "I thought our guys stayed focused and grinded it out."
Now UCF, who'd had consecutive week layoffs between games ,will get back to action a bit quicker this time around, welcoming North Carolina A&T (4-4) to the UCF Arena on Tuesday.Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.