DELAND, FLORIDA---Wednesday night brought forth a showdown of two Florida teams who were going in opposite directions to open the 2015-16 season. On one side, the visiting UCF Knights had lost three of their first four contests (0-2 on the road) by a combined 7 points, meaning they have been competitive on a nightly basis.
The home team this evening, the Stetson Hatters, came in riding a brief wave of strong play. They had won two of their last three contests, including an impressive road win over Florida International in their last performance. UCF would pose a stern test for the young Hatters, as the size of the Knights in the paint gave them an enormous advantage over the undersized forwards of Stetson.
To add fuel to the fire, both teams wanted to score a win over one of their instate rivals. The game brought out the best in both the Knights and Hatters, but it was a pair of 20+ point performances that would be the difference.
The visiting Knights held on down the stretch, and relied on strong free throw shooting to score their first road win with a 94-85 decision over Stetson.
In the first half, both squads went back and forth, shot for shot, as neither team could build a substantial lead. Matt Williams opened the scoring, knocking down a three-pointer for the Knights before Grant Lozoya scored five quick points for the Hatters to push them ahead to a slim 5-3 lead.
Over the next 8 minutes, the back-and-forth action ensued. The teams traded punches on offense, with Stetson taking a series of two-point leads, only to have the Knights come right back and tie the game.
With 9:09 left in the first half, a three-pointer from Derick Newton gave the Hatters an eight-point lead, at 28-20. However, UCF would continue to hang around and prohibit the Hatters from pulling away. A 9-3 run by the Knights, capped off by a layup from 7'6" center Tacko Fall, cut the deficit to just a single point, and UCF was back in business.
The seesaw action continued to transpire for the rest of the twenty minutes, with neither team building a lead over 3 points the rest of the way. Fall scored the last 8 points of the half for the Knights, as his layup with 48 seconds put them in front (39-38 UCF) heading into the break.
The second half was more of the same, with the teams continuing to trade baskets while battling for the lead. Yet, the roles reversed, as the Knights held the lead and slowly built onto it as the second half progressed. In the paint, Fall was simply too much for the Hatters to guard, and the Knights continued to get him the ball.
In doing so, things opened up on the back end, and the likes of Chance McSpadden and Shaheed Davis made their presence known by combining for 13 points in the last 3 minutes of the game.
Even though UCF built up a 12-point lead with 8:31 to play, credit must be given to the Hatters for continually chipping away. They would cut the deficit to a single point on several occasions, but could never overtake their opponent in the second half.
Strong free throw shooting down the stretch, and in the closing minute, helped the Knights hold off the Hatters, and come away with their first road win of the season.
Tonight marked the first time since 2014 that the Knights had two players with 20 or more points in a single game. Freshman Tacko Fall netted a game-high 23 points to go along with 11 rebounds for the first double-double of his collegiate career. Fall was an effective 11-of-12 from the floor. Additionally, Chance McSpadden chipped in with 21 points of his own, while Shaheed Davis added 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists in the win.
Wednesday’s loss was the Hatters’ first on their home floor this season, falling to 1-1 in Deland. Grant Lozoya scored a team-high 20 points to go along with 4 assists in the loss. Brian Pegg added in 13 points and 8 rebounds, narrowly missing another double-double.
The Knights did a great job in neutralizing the play of Divine Myles, holding the Hatters' star guard to just 7 points on 3-of-8 shooting. Myles did, however, have an amazing assist-to-turnover ratio of 7 to 0.
With this victory, the UCF Knights (2-3) have their first road win under their belts, and have won two of their past three contests. After a strong performance by the entire team, their confidence has to be rising as they move forward in the year. They will look to make it two straight wins on Saturday night, when they return to Orlando to take on the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames.
As for the Stetson Hatters (3-5), they have now alternated wins and losses in each of their past four games. Their inability to build off a win may hurt them as the season progresses. With that being said, they have a great opportunity to string together back-to-back wins over their next two contests. They kick off a home-and-home series with the Tennessee State Tigers on December 5th, going on the road, before the Tigers return to Deland, FL on December 14th.