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Poor shooting proves costly for UCF in home loss to BYU

With the latest member of the UCF basketball team sitting courtside, the Knights welcomed Mikey Williams to Addition Financial Arena with a crazy ending Saturday against BYU, but the Knights could not finish off a furious rally, and the No. 18 Cougars won 63-58.

UCF trailed most of the way, but the Knights kept scrapping away and despite shooting just 29% from the field (17 of 58) and missing 12 of 33 free throws, they were still in the game. thanks to a ramped-up defense, things started to go their way late. The announced crowd of 9,137 was right behind them, but it was not enough.

“It’s tough. This league is tough. We went into this game with our eyes wide open. We knew it was going to be challenging, like they all are going to be,” UCF coach Johnny Dawkins said of the Big 12 schedule. “We needed to make sure we played for 40 minutes and secure a victory, and unfortunately we did not.”

BYU hit only one field goal in the final 7:17 of the game. That bucket came from Fousseyni Traore and it gave BYU a 59-50 lead with 3:53 remaining. UCF was able to rally from a 13-point deficit to get within 59-58 with two minutes left.

But the Knights could not get over the hump and never scored again.

“I’m really hurt right now, because this is home. We need to protect home,” said UCF center Ibrahima Diallo. “You come to my crib .. it’s personal and I feel like they come to my house and they punched me in the mouth. I take that to heart. We play them again … we’re going to respond.”

UCF had gotten several stops on defense in the final two minutes, but the Knights could not convert on the offensive end. The Knights had a tough turnover with 26 seconds left and trailing 60-58. On the ensuing play, fans reacted harshly to a no-call after a Jumbotron replay showed an apparent foul on a BYU player shoving CJ Walker to the floor during a BYU in-bounds play.

BYU missed a free throw with 23 seconds left, and UCF’s Darius Johnson rushed down the floor but missed a contested layup and got tied up on the rebound. BYU had the possession arrow and UCF was back on defense.

BYU, in the double bonus with 10 seconds left, got 1 of 2 free throws from Spencer Johnson to put the Cougars up 61-58. UCF raced down the floor again and got up a contested 3-pointer by Jaylin Sellers that rimmed off, and BYU gained control again, then finished off the Knights with two more free throws.

The game was physical and UCF’s 7-foot center Diallo showed he was ready for it. He said he was “punched in the mouth,” but he certainly punched back. Diallo battled hard with BYU big-man Aly Khalifa all evening and pulled down a career-high 19 rebounds, but Khalifa still managed 17 points. UCF outrebounded BYU 44-38.

Johnson led the Knights with 18 points, scoring 13 points in a brutal first half of offense for the Knights that saw them shoot just 26% from the floor. They were also horrible at the free-throw line, hitting just 5 of 13 charities. Sellers had 13 points and Diallo added 11.

Sellers was sluggish during the game and Dawkins said he was not feeling well.

“He’s a little bit under the weather, as you could see out there,” Dawkins said. “But he was giving us what he had. That’s something that’s tough … You can’t help if you get sick. Nothing you can do about that.”

Another thing that frustrated Dawkins was his team’s lack of working together. The Knights managed just six assists, although some of that was likely due to the fact that UCF could not buy a basket at certain stretches of the game. UCF also suffered a lack of scoring from its depth, getting only one point off the bench.

The free throws were especially frustrating for the Knights.

“We have to do a better job of focusing and concentrating at the line,” Dawkins said. “And that’s not just one player. That’s all of our guys. … We’ve traditionally been a good free-throw shooting team and this team has some room to grow in that area.”

The two teams went back and forth in the first half, with BYU taking a six-point lead with seven minutes left before halftime. UCF, however, never let the lead balloon and kept pace, trailing just 26-24 at the break.

Chris Hays covers high school and college football and college football recruiting. You can find him on X @OC_ChrisHays and on Instagram @OS_ChrisHays. He can be reached via email at chays@orlandosentinel.com.