With the season on the line the Knights showed that they would not be sent home packing without a fight. UCF faced off Thursday night against the top seeded Cincinnati Bearcats in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals, in a game that many believed would not be a close contest what so ever. The knights were able to push the highly ranked Bearcats to their limits, but ultimately came up short 61-58 bringing their season to an end.
The knights’ valiant effort was led by senior guard Isaiah Sykes who dropped 21 points and collected a team high 9 rebounds in his final game for UCF before unfortunately suffering a knee injury with 11.8 seconds left in the game. Cincinnati led by 1st team All-AAC guard Sean Kilpatrick who scored 21 points and secured 9 rebounds as well.
The Knights were able to tie the game 53-53 late 2:55 seconds left in the game following a 3-point play by Isaiah Sykes. The game would go down to the wire but following two missed flagrant foul free throws by UCF freshman Justin McBride and a missed wide open three pointer by junior Kasey Wilson, the game was sealed away by a wide open game deciding 3 pointer by Cincinnati guard Kevin Johnson creating a 58-53 lead with under a minute left.
UCF was coming off of a double overtime victory over Temple 94-90 on Wednesday which was highlighted by an outstanding 36 point career high night by Sykes. A defensive clinic was put on by sophomore center Staphon Blair and senior forward Tristan Spurlock who both racked up 5 blocks a piece serving as a tough line of defense for the Knights in their opening round victory.
UCF in their final game finally looked like they deserved to play in the elite American Athletic Conference. Their final defeat may have been one of the teams finer moments this season proving that on a good night they could possibly go toe to toe with the best in the AAC. In what can only be described as a rough season for the knights finishing with a 13-18 record and going 4-14 in conference play they were forced to adjust to the competition level of the AAC.
UCF will lose seniors Calvin Newell, Tristan Spurlock and Isaiah Sykes as they have played their final games for UCF and must look towards the future. With the season finally behind them UCF must find a new focal point in their offense to replace the prolific presence of Isaiah Sykes who led the team scoring, rebounds and assist this past season. The team must also now make up for their talent deficit if they want to be able to compete with the AAC elite. One thing is certain UCF must reestablish their team identity and continue to fight hard for that is the Knight way.