By Danny Morales
ORLANDO -- Isaiah Sykes had 21 points and ten rebounds, as the UCF Knights defeated the Southern Methodist University Mustangs 74-65 on Saturday afternoon at the UCF Arena in Orlando.
Sykes’ 21 points and ten rebounds was good enough for his third double-double of the season.
“He’s a winner,” said UCF head coach Donnie Jones of Sykes after the game. “That’s all you can say about guys like him, he’s got great touchness. I thought he really gave us a lift when they needed it.”
SMU started the game on a 10-3 run, but UCF countered with a 10-0 run of their own to jump out to a 13-10 lead over the Mustangs with 13 minutes left in the first half.
The Knights finished the first half on a 9-2 run in which guard Calvin Newell scored five of UCF’s nine points. UCF went into the locker room with a 38-32 halftime lead.
The Mustangs failed to make a field goal during the last five minutes of the half.
Newell led all scorers with 13 points during the first half, while senior forward Keith Clanton finished the half 1-4 shooting and had three points while going 1-1 from the free throw line.
“We’re more confident,” said UCF forward Tristan Spurlock after the game about winning despites a low point output from Clanton. “But still Keith is the best big in the conference and maybe the country, so we’ve got to give him the ball.”
SMU went on a 15-6 run midway through the second half to tie the game at 63-63 with 3:45 remaining in regulation time.
“I just told them we had to calm down here, we had to get some stops here, and we got to execute,” said Jones about what he told his team once SMU tied the game. “ We gotta get to the free throw line, make sure we’re not taking quick long three’s and lets make sure every bucket is a drive to the rim or a post feed to Keith, and on the other end everybody’s got to rebound.”
UCF finished the game on a 11-2 run after the Mustangs had tied, Sykes had five of the Knights 11 points during the final run of the game.
“We don’t like giving up leads,” said Spurlock about SMU’s late run to tie the game. “But we’ve got a team that’s young. Sometimes you just got to be able to take the other team’s best punch, and be able to give them one right back.”
Sykes had 11 points during the second half, as he finished the game with 21 points and ten rebounds for his third double-double of the season.
“We just know from experience that Isaiah is really good at handling the ball,” said Spurlock after the game. “He works on that a lot. He’s able to play 2 or 3 different positions, so late in the game we don’t have any problem with giving him the ball and letting him go.”
Spurlock finished the game with 14 points and six rebounds for the Knights, while Clanton finished with nine points and four assists for the night.
“It’s tough because Keith’s got the ability to get 20 every night,” said Jones after the game. “But right now with the way teams are playing and their zoning, their making it very hard for us to get a lot of touches to Keith. He’s got to continue to fight and find other ways to score.”
With the win the Knights record improves to 14-5, while going 4-1 in Conference USA play.
UCF now hits the road for their next game against Tulane on Wednesday, Jan. 30 at 8:00 p.m.