Tacko Fall shined in his UCF home debut as his dunk with 26 seconds remaining in regulation sent the game into overtime, tied at 58 apiece.
But UCF’s two points in extra time weren’t enough to secure a victory, and the Knights lost to UC Irvine, 61-60, Wednesday night.
Fall was impactful from the start, blocking two of Mamadou Ndiaye’s shots within the first minute and a half of the game. The freshman finished with six points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 27 minutes of action.
“It felt great to finally be able to play in front of the home crowd. I remember last year when I used to come here and watch them play,” Fall said. “I didn’t know what to expect coming into the game, but then after those two plays I was like, ‘OK, I can guard him.’”
Fall and Ndiaye, two 7-foot-6 centers, met as the tallest matchup in college basketball and were surrounded by a troupe of media before and after the game.
“I worried, physically, that Mamadou may overwhelm him a little bit. But obviously Tacko’s a pretty good size himself and long and pretty athletic and agile,” UCF head coach Donnie Jones said. “It was a unique evening for both of those guys.
“[Fall’s] confidence is only going to get better. He’s still trying, and our team’s still trying to learn how to play with him, when to get him the ball, how to pass it to him.”
Redshirt sophomore A.J. Davis, who was required to sit out all of last season due to NCAA transfer rules, led the Knights in scoring with 19 points. He added five assists and four boards in his team-high 38 minutes on the court.
“I was just trying to get in there and get some good looks, and I was finishing and getting to the free-throw line and knocking in my free throws and just trying to produce as much as possible,” Davis said. “We did a great job rebounding, but without a win it doesn’t mean much to me. I hope we can keep on building on that throughout the course of the season.”
Davis, the son of 13-year NBA veteran Antonio Davis, took the role that now-injured B.J. Taylor held last season as he ran the Knights’ offense with sophomore Adonys Henriquez from the top of the key. Henriquez finished seven points and six rebounds in 37 minutes of action.
An eight-point Anteaters lead just over five minutes into the game was the largest of the night in a game that was tied eight different times and saw 10 lead changes throughout its entirety. The Knights trailed 26-24 at halftime, but a 34-point second half helped keep the game within a few points.
The Knights and Anteaters were tied at 56 apiece with just over a minute remaining in the game before UC Irvine’s Luke Nelson put in a highlight-reel layup.
A foul on Fall during the ensuing drive gave the Knights a fresh, 30-second shot clock with 37.9 seconds remaining. Davis’ dish to Fall, who dunked it in with 26 seconds left, tied the game 58. The Anteaters weren’t able to drain a bucket with eight seconds left on the clock to take the game into overtime.
Henriquez took the potential game-winning shot in overtime for the Knights but couldn’t get the bucket to drop.
“AD [Henriquez] didn’t realize how much time [was left], so he took a tough shot there worried about the clock,” Jones said. “That’s a tough look for us, but obviously we’ve got to execute those plays to get a better shot.”
The Knights face UNC Greensboro at home Saturday at 7 p.m.
Jarrod Heil is the Sports Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @JarrodHeil or email him at JarrodH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.