Central Florida coach Donnie Jones has instilled a defensive-minded approach in his first year at the school. It was hard to tell in the team’s last game.
Coming off their first loss, the 23rd-ranked Knights look to match last season’s win total Saturday when they face a Southern Mississippi team that’s dropped 17 in a row to Top 25 opponents.
Jones, who coached at Marshall the last three seasons, led the Thundering Herd to a 24-10 record last year when they finished 19th in the nation in field goal defense.
Teams averaged 68.3 points and shot 43.9 percent from the field against the Knights last season under coach Kirk Speraw, but it’s been a different story in Jones’ first year in Orlando. UCF (14-1, 1-1 Conference USA) is among the best in the country in allowing 58.1 points per game while holding opponents to 36.6 percent shooting.
The Knights, though, are trying to move past their worst defensive performance of the season in a 76-71 loss at Houston last Saturday. The Cougars shot 14 of 29 from the field—5 of 8 from 3-point range—while building a 15-point halftime lead.
“They came out and played at a really high level, and we didn’t match their intensity,” Jones said. “They made shots, and that’s what you’ve got to do to upset teams.”
While the Knights try to equal the 15 wins they posted last season, the Golden Eagles (13-3, 2-1) are looking for a rare victory against a ranked opponent. Southern Miss is 6-84 versus Top 25 teams and winless in those matchups since an 83-61 victory over then-No. 21 Marquette on Jan. 16, 2004.
Coach Larry Eustachy’s team enters this game following Wednesday’s 81-78 overtime victory at Rice. Senior forward Gary Flowers, who leads the league with 21.4 points per game, scored six of his team-best 24 in the extra period as the Golden Eagles outscored the Owls 11-1 over the final 2:43.
“The story of the game was that our team was able to overcome the disappointment and letdowns during the game,” Eustachy said. “To come back showed unbelievable character. You can name any player on this team and they were the reason why we won.
“It was a great game and a great win. I’m ecstatic that we were able to pull this one out on the road and I’m extremely proud of these guys.”
Opening a two-game stretch at Reed Green Coliseum, Southern Miss will look for its second straight home win in this matchup.
Led by a career-high 24 points from guard Angelo Johnson and 16 points and seven rebounds from Flowers, the Golden Eagles outscored the Knights by 19 points in the second half of a 68-58 victory in Hattiesburg on Feb. 20.
Isaac Sosa led UCF with 14 points off the bench, while forward A.J. Tyler added 13 and Marcus Jordan chipped in with 12.
Jordan, 10th in Conference USA with 16.3 points per game, was held to 10 last weekend after scoring 26 in each of the previous two games.
Southern Miss has won four of seven all-time meetings with UCF.