B.J. Taylor sparks UCF to 53-49 win over No. 15 Cincinnati
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — B.J. Taylor had been the catalyst for the UCF Knights but the sophomore point guard went silent for about a 5-minute stretch late in Sunday’s game against No. 15 Cincinnati.
Still, there was little doubt in CFE Arena who would take the shot in the final minute of the game with the Knights clinging to a two-point lead.
Feeling the pressure from the Bearcats’ trapping defense, Taylor stepped back behind the arc and buried a 3-pointer with 33 seconds remaining to all but seal the Knights’ 53-49 upset win over Cincinnati on Senior Night.
The arena went into a frenzy.
“I knew we were up by two and there was about a minute left so when those moments come I embrace those moments,” said Taylor, who finished with 27 points. “That’s why I work so hard in the offseason to prepare for those moments.”
His shot and Tacko Fall’s two free throws with 2 seconds remaining delivered the Knights their biggest win in years. Not only did they knock off Cincinnati for the first time in nine tries but they very well could have ended the Bearcats’ American Athletic Conference regular-season title hopes.
It is the first time since defeating No. 4 UConn in 2011 that UCF has defeated a Top 25 team.
“It says we have to keep growing and we know what our potential is,” Taylor said. “We got this win and we are going to enjoy it but coming into the game this is what we expected to do.
“We worked too hard in the offseason to not compete so moving forward we know what we are capable of and we know what we can do moving toward March.”
The Knights (19-10, 10-7) celebrated in their final regular-season home game. The Bearcats, meanwhile, were left to deal with a disappointing defeat that may have altered some of their more immediate goals.
Cincinnati (25-4, 14-2) entered the day tied with SMU for first place in the AAC.
The Bearcats have two more regular-season games to go and need help to claim the conference title.
“It’s something we wanted but we just have to go back to the lab and make sure we get the rest of them,” Cincinnati guard Jacob Evans said.
Bearcats coach Mick Cronin, however, wasn’t much in the mood of thinking down the road. He was still too disappointed in his team’s effort Sunday. UCF’s zone defense limited the Bearcats to 25 percent shooting in the second half and 29 percent for the game.
Evans finished with 17 points, while forwards Kyle Washington and Gary Clark struggled throughout the game, shooting a combined 4 for 19 from the field and finishing with seven points and three points, respectively.
“We shot 20-something percent from the floor, we were awful. Shot selection was awful, our open shooting was awful for the most part,” Cronin said. “Our shot selection by our big guys was beyond terrible and our lacking of passing is what bothers me the most.”
Cincinnati: The Bearcats lost some serious ground in the AAC regular season title race.
UCF: The Knights notched a huge win on their resume as they look to improve their chances of a making a postseason tournament.
The Bearcats will likely take a tumble in the polls after losing to an unranked opponent, even on the road.
Fall, the Knights 7-foot-6 center, didn’t have big numbers in this game, finishing with seven points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
But his presence and effect on the game defensively went beyond the numbers because he consistently changed the Bearcats’ shots in the paint.
“In my opinion he was a huge factor in the game,” first-year UCF coach Johnny Dawkins said. “He was changing shots, blocking shots. His presence in the lane when they were coming in, I could see guys looking for him and you know when guys are starting to do that they aren’t focused on what they are trying to accomplish.”
A LITTLE RESPECT
Not only could Sunday’s loss have hurt the Bearcats in their quest to win the league title, but it likely hurt their seeding for next month’s NCAA Tournament.
Senior guard Kevin Johnson said he would be surprised if it doesn’t.
“In my opinion the committee doesn’t really think that well of our league so taking a loss like this today, even though UCF is a pretty solid team, probably will affect some seeding things,” he said. “But we can’t worry about that. We have to worry about Thursday now and us getting better.”
Cincinnati: The Bearcats host Houston on Thursday night. Cincinnati defeated the Cougars 67-58 on Jan. 7.
UCF: The Knights close out their regular season at USF on Thursday night. UCF defeated USF 86-64 on Jan. 17.
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