May 30, 2024

UCF Knights’ defense powers team to comeback victory over No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks

Central Florida forward C.J. Walker (21) goers up for a shot against Kansas forward K.J. Adams Jr. (24) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

By PHILIP ROSSMAN-REICH Associated Press
ORLANDO, FL (AP) — In the preseason Big 12 poll, No. 3 Kansas was predicted to finish first and UCF was predicted to come in last. The Knights’ rallying cry to combat that noise was to prove they belonged.
In another topsy-turvy college basketball game, the Knights did just that, upending the Jayhawks 65-60 on Wednesday night.
“They were better than us tonight,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “There’s no understating that they were better than us. On the flip side, we weren’t very good.”
Ibrahima Diallo broke a 57-57 tie with less than three minutes left with a hook shot over Jayhawks (13-2, 1-1 Big 12) star Hunter Dickinson. He then blocked a KJ Adams Jr. shot with 50 seconds left to help the Knights (10-4, 1-1) preserve the lead and score the program’s first Big 12 conference win.
Jaylin Sellers led the Knights with 18 points and Darius Johnson added 17. UCF erased a 16-point deficit in the first half to secure the win, using a 10-0 run toward the end of the first half to close the gap and make it an eight-point deficit at the half.
The Knights then used a 14-6 start to the half to take the lead. The duo of Sellers and Johnson combined to make 7 of 13 3-pointers for the game and three of four in the second half.
The Jayhawks missed their chance to put the game away in a key turning point and the Knights took advantage.
“It just shows we can compete at the highest level,” Johnson said. “That is clearly a great basketball team. It just shows we can beat them, compete and be a postseason team.”
Kansas had 18 turnovers. The UCF center trio of Ibrahima Diallo, C.J. Walker and Omar Payne recorded five of the team’s seven blocks in the game.
Diallo had 13 points, five rebounds and a block to help anchor a UCF defense that forced eight turnovers and blocked four shots in the second half alone.
“We committed. Everyone had to lock in on defense,” Diallo said. “It was a defensive game. All my teammates we locked in on defense. That made the offense be easier.”
The Jayhawks got the Knights down by double-digits in the first half but could not figure out UCF’s length in the second half, scoring only 23 points and shooting 7-for-22 shooting in the second half.
Kansas entered the game averaging 79.9 points per game.
“We turned the ball over at a high rate,” Kevin McCullar Jr. said. “That leads to easy baskets for the other team, we have to take care of the ball better.”
McCullar scored 16 points to lead Kansas. Dickinson had only 12 points and played 28 minutes because of foul trouble.
Self said Dickinson was also slowed by a bruised knee that had him laboring throughout the game.
UCF’s victory came one night after No. 1 Purdue and second-ranked Houston lost.
The Knights lost their Big 12 opener at Kansas State 77-52.
BIG PICTURE
Kansas was in a position to claim the top spot in next week’s poll after the losses by the top two teams. But the Jayhawks have not looked dominant in conference play, winning their first Big 12 game at home against TCU by just two points before falling to UCF.
UCF picked up its first Big 12 win in its inaugural season in the conference, leading to fans storming the court in celebration after the victory.
UP NEXT
Kansas will get a chance to recover when they host No. 9 Oklahoma on Saturday.
UCF’s gauntlet to start its inaugural Big 12 season continues Saturday when the team hosts No. 18 BYU in Orlando.