Orlando, Fla. — The quarterfinals of the NIT found a surprising home in Orlando, Fla., as the fourth seeded University of Central Florida Knights hosted the second-seeded Illinois Fighting Illini, Wed. Mar., 22, 2017t. Seeding usually deems the home team, but due to a scheduling conflict for Illinois and their arena, the game was moved to the CFE Arena on the campus of UCF. It was a big night at CFE as the school had its first ever sell-out with over 10,000 fans in attendance. The Knights embraced the energy of the crowd and came away with a huge 68 – 58 victory over the Fight Illini.
“The student section was off the charts. Our community – everyone came out – and we couldn’t have done it without them, “ said first-year Coach Johnny Dawkins. “That energy they gave us was amazing. I could see our players feeding off it. What a special atmosphere. What a special night for our entire Orlando community, and UCF. I was really, really happy.”
In the first half, UCF jumped out to an early 15 to 6 lead behind the outside shooting of Sr. Matt Williams. This lead to a raucous start as the expectant crowd climbed right into the game early and the Knights fed off the energy in the building. UCF continued to extend its lead to a commanding 34-19 lead.
At the half, the Knights were lead by Matt Williams 13 pts. and AJ Davis 10 pts. Yet the key statistics were not individual stats-it was the Knights stifling defense that held the Illini to 26.9% from the field and also UCF out rebounded the Illini 21 to 10.
In the second half, Illinois made a few quick baskets and looked like it make a game, but each time the Knights responded with a run of their own and at the 8:12 mark of the second half the Knights were up 17 points holding a 53-36 lead. The Illinois turned up the pressure defensively and began to hit some shots and even got the lead down to 6 with 59 seconds left, but AJ Davis and BJ Taylor hit key free-throws and the Knights came away with the 68-58 victory.
UCF will face off with Texas Christian University in the National Invitational Tournament semifinals on Tues., Mar. 28, 2017 at Madison Square Garden. The other semifinal matchup pits Georgia Tech vs. either University of Texas at Arlington or Cal State-Bakersfield. The NIT Championship game will be played for next Thurs., Mar. 30, 2017 at Madison Square Garden.
HMG Staff – Peter Wehry