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UCF can’t overcome No. 1 Houston's second-half surge in 67-59 loss

ORLANDO, Fla. — UCF played the No. 1 team in the country toe-to-toe Wednesday night, but the Knights couldn’t pull off the monumental upset.

Instead, Houston locked up a share of the Big 12 regular-season title with a 67-59 win at Addition Financial Arena.

UCF (15-14, 6-11 Big 12) got out to a quick start, scoring the game’s first six points before the Cougars (27-3, 14-3) could get on the scoreboard. The Knights continued to hold the lead throughout the first half, entering halftime with a 31-28 advantage.

The first time these teams met on Jan. 20, Houston held UCF to a season-low seven field-goal attempts as Houston pulled away with a 57-42 win. This time the Knights were more aggressive on both ends, scoring their seventh field goal with 8:36 left in the first half.

Houston chipped away in the second half, taking its first lead at 45-42 with 12:01 left on a 3-pointer by Jamal Shead.

The Cougars demonstrated why they’re one of the top defensive teams in the country, holding UCF scoreless for a four-minute stretch that saw UH turn a two-point Knights advantage to a nine-point lead.

CJ Walker led three UCF players in double figures with 15 points, Darius Johnson added 14 and Jaylin Sellers had 12.

LJ Cryer led all scorers with 25 points and Shead had 15.

This was the first time that UCF hosted a top-ranked team and the third time the Knights have faced an overall No. 1. They previously lost to No. 1 Duke, 77-76, in the second round of the 2018-19 NCAA Tournament and No. 1 Memphis, 85-64, on Feb. 9, 2008.

It was Senior Night and the final home game for a handful of UCF players: Shemarri Allen, Antwaan Jones, Walker, Omar Payne and Ibrahima Diallo.

Houston has been dealing with mounting injuries, losing freshman forward Jojo Tugler (foot) and guard/forward Ramon Walker (knee) to season-ending injuries.

Wednesday’s outcome extended Houston’s winning streak to nine games over the Knights, dating to the 2018-19 season.

The Cougars not only clinched a share of the Big 12 title in their first season but they sit in a strong position for the No. 1 seed in the conference and NCAA tournaments.

UCF finishes the regular season with an 11-7 record at Addition Financial Arena, including a 4-5 mark in the Big 12. Three of the four victories, however, were against ranked opponents: No. 3 Kansas (Jan. 10), No. 23 Oklahoma (Feb. 3) and No. 23 Texas Tech (Feb. 24).

The Knights wrap up the season at TCU (19-10, 8-8) on Saturday before traveling to Kansas City for the Big 12 tournament next week.