With win over UTEP, Knights win 3 of 4
Published: Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 16:02
Maybe the Knights should play more morning games.
The Knights (17-9, 4-9) notched their most impressive win of conference play on the road Monday, beating the UTEP Miners (20-7, 8-4), 74-68.
The game started at 11 a.m. local time in El Paso, Texas. The Knights used an all-around impressive performance to defeat the Miners and looked a lot like a certain UCF team that raced off to a 14-0 start and debuted in the national polls earlier this season.
UTEP came into the game flying high atop the Conference USA standings and receiving votes in both polls.
The Knights, despite having won two of their last three before Monday's game, were still trying to shake the stigma of an eight-game losing streak.
An upset like Monday's may have just done that.
"Today, shots went down," said head coach Donnie Jones in a release. "We worked the clock, and got the ball to the right people."
Keith Clanton led the Knights with 15 points. Clanton came up big in the second half, scoring 13 of his 15. The sophomore forward came out of the break scoring the first five points of the half.
The one-man scoring run took UCF from coming out of the half up 39-25 all the way to a 19-point lead, 44-25, which was their largest of the contest. It helped quiet the crowd of 9,824.
Marcus Jordan had 13 points for the Knights and P.J. Gaynor continued his good play of late, adding 10 points.
The Knights did their best to contain UTEP star guard Randy Culpepper. Culpepper led the Miners with 25 points, and at times put the team on his back keeping the game close.
UCF's used a great shooting performance, something it has been struggling with, in the first half to create some distance from the Miners. The Knights shot 66.7 percent from the field, and made six of 11 three-point attempts.
The game was a make-up for a game scheduled on Feb. 2 that was cancelled because of a power outage as a result of a winter storm. The unusual start time seemed to work well for the Knights, who were the first opponent to score more than 70 points against the Miners in their last 10 games.
The Miners also hadn't lost a home game since their season opener against Pacific on Nov. 12.
Sitting at 17-9 overall and with three games remaining, the Knights still have a chance for a 20-win season. It would be an impressive accomplishment for first-year coach Donnie Jones and his program.
But it won't be easy for UCF.
The Knights return home on Saturday to play Southern Miss at the UCF Arena. The Golden Eagles (21-6, 9-4) are in the scramble atop the Conference USA standings, right there with Memphis and UAB. Southern Miss was the second team to defeat UCF during their eight game losing streak, soundly beating the Knights, 86-69.
Senior forward Gary Flowers is the man to watch for the Golden Eagles, leading the team in points per game (19.8) and rebounders per game (7.8). UCF's big men will have their hands full keeping the standout in check. He shoots 48 percent from the field on the season.
Following their contest with Southern Miss, the Knights will have their final home game of the season, taking on the SMU Mustangs on March 2.
The final game for the Knights is one Marshall fans and players have likely had circled on their calendars for a while. UCF will travel to Huntington, W.Va., to take on the Thundering Herd in their season finale, marking coach Donnie Jones' first return to the Mountain State since leaving the program after last season to take the helm for the Knights.
Whether or not UCF wins out its remaining schedule, the Knights have something bigger to play for.
Momentum heading into March is huge, and having won three of their last four, the Knights would prefer to focus on playing the role of spoiler next time they return to El Paso, Texas, this time in the Conference USA Tournament.