UCF overcomes sloppy play, defeats St. Thomas 74-61
Published: Saturday, November 12, 2011
Updated: Sunday, November 13, 2011 16:11
It's nearly the exact amount of time between games for the UCF Knights (1-0), who started their 2011-2012 campaign with a 74-61 over the St. Thomas Bobcats (1-3) at the UCF Arena on Saturday.
That contest ended at around 7 p.m. on Saturday. At 7:05 p.m. on Monday, the Knights will tip off in Tallahassee against Florida State (1-0), a Sweet-16 team in last season's NCAA Tournament.
It's a quick turnaround, especially when making the jump from playing a Division II opponent to a program that is unofficially ranked No. 26 in the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN Coaches polls.
The task is even more daunting when considering the way UCF played against St. Thomas.
"We're just happy for the victory. Give St. Thomas credit. They were very competitive and physical," UCF head coach Donnie Jones said. "The guys found a way to win."
In a game where the Knights committed 20 turnovers and made 26-of-47 (55.3 percent) free-throw attempts, UCF found a way to avoid a loss against the scrappy Sunbelt Conference team.
UCF was without guard Marcus Jordan, forward P.J. Gaynor, forward Josh Crittle (team rules violations) and guard A.J. Rompza (NCAA eligibility issue).
"We're not making excuses; you play the guys you've got," Jones said. "Everything we've done all summer long … and what we've done all preseason, we've had to turn it all upside down."
Keith Clanton led all scorers with 18 points. Clanton picked up only five rebounds but contributed with six blocks to start the season.
"Keith Clanton had a night tonight where it just wasn't easy for him," Jones said. "He focused on scoring too much instead of letting it come to him."
Including Clanton, four Knights scored in double figures. Isaiah Sykes, who is starting at point guard while Rompza's eligibility is being determined, scored 15 points and chipped in six assists and six rebounds.
Freshman Rod Days made his first collegiate start and scored 14 points. Also making his first official debut as a Knight was Virginia-transfer Tristan Spurlock. Spurlock scored 12 points and added seven rebounds.
"They played three [smaller] guards, and they got under us, but still we've got to be tougher with the ball," Spurlock said.
UCF's sloppy play allowed the Bobcats to hang around even after the Knights had some successful scoring runs. St. Thomas pulled within three in the second half, but a 13-4 run by UCF created enough distance for the Knights to win comfortably, if not convincingly.
"Defensively, we've got to start locking down and really staying in front of guys," Spurlock said.
The game with Florida State is the first part of a home-and-home series with the Seminoles.
FSU is fresh off a 79-67 victory on Friday over Jacksonville. The Seminoles were led by junior forward Terrance Shannon, who came off the bench to score 15 points and haul in 12 rebounds, recording his first collegiate double-double.
The Knights are 0-8 all time against FSU and have not played the Seminoles since 1988.
The aggressively scheduled game, early in the season and likely shorthanded again, will be a good early test of what this team is. Rompza will definitely still be out, and Jones said whether or not the other three play is still to be decided upon.
"This will be a great early challenge for our team in a tough atmosphere," Jones said. "We're asking 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-7 guys to get out and bring the ball up. … It was a good opportunity for our guys because we [were able to] get ready to play Florida State."
Signing class announced
Lost in the controversy following last week's UCF Athletics Association resignations and suspensions was the announcement of UCF's signing class. The signing class consists of Taylor Barnette (Nicholasville, Ky.), Staphon Blair (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Dylan Karell (North Miami Beach, Fla.) and Matt Williams (Orlando, Fla.).