The UCF Knights used a combination of up-tempo offense and smothering defense to tame the Houston Cougars 74-63 in front of the seventh largest crowd in school history. Four different Knights were in double figures led by Isaiah Sykes who had 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting while grabbing 14 rebounds, including 11 off the offensive glass.
Early in the contest, Keith Clanton has control of the offense as Houston could do little to stop him in the post. Clanton finished with 18 points on 9 of 21 shooting while bringing down 13 rebounds, 8 of which came on offense. Marcus Jordan and A.J. Rompza were kept quiet on the night as the duo was just 5 of 20 from the floor but hit several key 3-point shots to extend leads. Both players were also factors on the defensive end with both pressure and help-side defense as the team created 15 Houston turnovers on the night.
Part of that aggressive play was able to draw Houston's leading scorer, Jonathan Simmons, into early foul trouble which kept him on the bench for a large part of the second half allowing UCF to assert its defensive will to put away the game. Simmons came into the game averaging 15 points a contest but was limited to just three points in 17 minutes of play tonight.
Earlier today, it was learned that UCF lost their second player off the bench in a week as Dwight McCombs was ruled ineligible for the remainder of the season. The Knights now only dress 11 players, but showed no ill-effects of its lack of depth as the team stayed out of foul trouble and got quality minutes from freshman Kasey Wilson and Tristan Spurlock on the defense end of the floor. The Knights relied heavily on their starting five as everyone but Josh Crittle played at least 36 minutes while the bench contributed just 35 minutes.
The 21 point game was the third time in his last five games that Sykes has scored at least 20 points. He has 82 points in his last five contests and has shot 56 percent from the field during that run. He also has 43 rebounds in the past five games, 24 of which are offensive. The 11 offensive rebounds tonight gives him 57 on the season and puts him in the top 20 in the country of total offensive rebounds, just two behind Clanton for the team lead.
UCF took this 11-point victory despite going just 3 of 21 from behind the arc and 7 of 16 from the free throw line. They made up for those shortcomings with a ten rebound advantage on the glass and committing nine less turnovers than the Cougars on the evening. With Memphis defeating Southern Mississippi this evening, they, Marshall, and UCF are the only remaining undefeated teams in Conference USA. As luck would have it, Marshall and Memphis are the next two games on the UCF schedule starting with the always tough road trip to Huntington, West Virginia this Saturday where coach Donnie Jones is still reviled by the Thundering Herd fanbase for defecting to UCF two seasons ago.