Hit­ting boards tops Knights’ agenda

Af­ter Mis­souri loss, Gram­bling should pose less of a task

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS WEEKEND - By Brian Mur­phy

The UCF men’s bas­ket­ball team spent this week learn­ing and study­ing. That is what fi­nals week en­tails, af­ter all.

But the Knights’ learn­ing wasn’t con­fined to the class­room. This week has also been about cor­rect­ing what went wrong Sun­day at Mis­souri.

UCF held a 3-point lead over the Tigers with less than a minute to play in reg­u­la­tion, but mul­ti­ple turnovers com­bined with a twist­ing fall-away 3-pointer at the buzzer by Mis­souri’s Jor­dan Geist to send the game into over­time. There the Knights were held score­less for the fi­nal 3:27 and ended up los­ing 64-62.

Five days off be­tween games left the Knights plenty of time to stew but also to im­prove where they have fal­tered. And that work, ac­cord­ing to play­ers and coach Johnny Dawkins, has cen­tered around re­bound­ing.

“I just felt like we didn’t re­bound, my­self in­cluded,” said Collin Smith, who gath­ered four re­bounds in 28 min­utes Sun­day. “We didn’t re­ally re­bound well and we just did not crash the of­fen­sive boards. [The Tigers] beat us in ev­ery stat that counts — sec­ond­chance points, re­bounds, loose balls, 50-50 balls. We just kind of beat our­selves. UCF beat­ing UCF.”

Said guard Aubrey Dawkins: “We play good de­fense for 20 sec­onds, what­ever it may be, and we can’t stop once the shot goes up. We have to get that re­bound, se­cure that ball, and then we can go on to the next. That’s re­ally what it is in my book.”

Mis­souri held a 17-7 edge in of­fen­sive re­bounds, which trans­lated into a 16-7 ad­van­tage for the Tigers in sec­ond-chance points.

De­spite a lengthy cast — in­clud­ing Smith, Dawkins, Tacko Fall and Chad Brown — crash­ing the glass has been an is­sue for the Knights, who re­side among the mid­dle of the AAC pack in re­bound­ing mar­gin and have al­lowed 25 of­fen­sive boards more than they have recorded.

The high­est im­pact of­fen­sive re­bound the Knights have given up oc­curred dur­ing their only other loss this sea­son, an 80-79 heart­breaker on Nov. 11 at home dur­ing which the Florida At­lantic Owls fol­lowed up a missed shot with a buzzer-beat­ing layup.

“You can de­fend as well as you want, but if you give up sec­ond- and third-shot at­tempts, that just di­min­ishes your de­fen­sive abil­ity,” coach Johnny Dawkins said.

Thus UCF, mere sec­onds from be­ing 8-0, sits at 6-2 and will be look­ing to re­bound, lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively, at 1 p.m. Satur­day ver­sus Gram­bling State at CFE Arena.

This set of Tigers is 4-4 and has just one vic­tory against a Divi­sion I team thus far — a six-point win at Ni­a­gara last month. How­ever, they faced some high­level com­pe­ti­tion, in­clud­ing 2018 Fi­nal Four dar­ling Loy­ola-Chicago. The Tigers lost that meet­ing by 16 and also fell by 21 at LSU last week.

Gram­bling State av­er­ages only six 3-point makes per game, but when they do fire off from long range, they are among the na­tion’s best; the Tigers are shoot­ing 43.2 per­cent above the arc, which is the sixth-best rate in Divi­sion I.

“Any team that shoots that well al­ways has a shooter’s chance of beat­ing any­body in the coun­try,” coach Dawkins said.

And the ex­tra at­ten­tion the Knights paid to re­bound­ing will be nec­es­sary against a Tigers team that ranks among the top 25 in de­fen­sive re­bound­ing.

“We have a few guys out there that are grab­bing re­bounds,” coach Dawkins said, “but we need more guys and more of a col­lec­tive ef­fort.”

In his first month of col­lege bas­ket­ball fol­low­ing more than two years out of ac­tion due to trans­fer­ring and in­jury, junior Aubrey Dawkins is av­er­ag­ing 16.1 points per game — tied with se­nior guard B.J. Taylor for the team high and ninth-best in the Amer­i­can. Dawkins has also made 89 per­cent of his free throws this sea­son and has hit 44 per­cent of his 3-point at­tempts dur­ing the past four games. In the process, he has be­come the first Knight in the pro­gram’s Divi­sion I era to reg­is­ter dou­ble-digit points in each of the team’s first eight games.

Dawkins said he feels “fine” with where he is at this point in his come­back sea­son and is steadily grow­ing more com­fort­able with each pass­ing game.

“I know I put in the work and I’m not re­ally wor­ried about misses and makes,” he said. “I know what­ever I work for, it’ll hap­pen for me.”

L.G. PATTERSON/AP

UCF’s Aubrey Dawkins (15) saves the ball from go­ing out of bounds in front of Knights coach Johnny Dawkins, left, and Mis­souri’s Javon Pick­ett. The Knights are try­ing to re­bound from a frus­trat­ing loss to the Tigers.

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