After holding Central Florida to only two field goals in the first 7:55 of Wednesday’s matchup at Hofheinz Pavilion, it appeared that the Houston Cougars’ defense was going to control the game.
Instead, their offense fell apart.
A 21-3 Knights’ run, which included five UH turnovers and a 0-of-11 shooting drought, allowed UCF to jump out to an 18-point lead with 4:46 left in the first half. This proved to be enough to allow the Knights to fend off UH, 78-71.
Wednesday was an awful night for the Cougars (10-8, 3-2 Conference USA) — who entered the evening averaging 83.4 points per game — as they shot a dismal 25 percent overall, including a 5-of-25 (20 percent) performance from 3-point range.
UH’s defense also experienced issues, as UCF (10-8, 2-2) shot 50.9 percent overall and dominated close to the basket. The Knights’ outscored the Cougars in the paint by a wide margin — 42-22.
The setback not only keeps the Cougars from moving into the upper-tier of C-USA, but also does a great deal of damage to their meager hopes of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The loss also marks the first time UH has lost three out of four home games during the Tom Penders era.
Both teams played sloppy at the start of the contest, missing several shots and committing careless turnovers. The score was tied at 7 with 13:59 left in the first half, but the Knights used an aggressive effort on defense to slow the Cougars’ up-tempo offense.
11 missed shots later, UH was trailing 28-10 with only 4:20 left before halftime. The Cougars showed signs of life, closing the half on a 13-6 run to crawl within 34-23.
UH shot only 26.9 percent and was out-rebounded by a 19-5 margin in the first half, as they failed to match up with a much more physical UCF squad. But as bad as it looked at the break, the Cougars trailed by only 11.
The Knights scored the first four points of the second half to take a 38-23 lead, leaving the Cougars’ in need of a way to generate quick points.
UH’s offense responded in aggressive fashion, as it drew seven fouls in the first six minutes after halftime. This strategy worked, as UCF’s defense appeared to play more passively for a brief stretch. The Cougars benefited, quickly trimming a 45-32 deficit to 45-38 with 12:20 remaining.
But the Knights didn’t want to spoil a terrific defensive effort. They responded with an 11-2 run, in which UH missed six of seven shot attempts, to take a 56-40 lead on Isaac Sosa’s jumper with 9:19 left to play.
With time running out, the Cougars implemented a full-court press after every made basket to try to create turnovers and layups in transition. UCF, however, exploited the holes in the trap and continued to score.
UH stretched the game long enough to work its deficit down to 76-68, but never fully recovered.
Aubrey Coleman led all scorers with 33 points on 8-of-21 shooting. Kelvin Lewis added 14 points for the Cougars, but his 2-of-11 performance from beyond the arc prevented his team from spreading out a Knights defense that controlled the paint for most of the game.
The son of legendary basketball player Michael Jordan, Marcus Jordan, led the Knights with 23 points on 9-of-9 shooting. A.J. Tyler scored 19 in the winning effort.
The Cougars will continue their conference schedule when they match up against Memphis (13-5, 3-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday inside FedExForum.