Knights Cap First Big 12 Win With Upset of No. 2 Kansas

Ken Cross

January 13, 2024 at 12:37 am.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Four upsets of top-five teams in 24 hours in the Tuesday-Wednesday block of games once again highlighted the greatness and competitiveness of college basketball.

No. 1 Purdue fell at Nebraska before No. 2 Houston lost a 57-53 decision on Tuesday evening and No. 5 Tennessee fell at Mississippi State, 77-72, on Wednesday.

Look no further as No. 2 Kansas became a victim in the Jayhawks’ 65-60 loss in Addition Financial Arena on the UCF campus in Orlando on Wednesday evening.

These preceded No. 9 Oklahoma’s loss at TCU and then No. 11 Marquette losing its fifth game of the season in a 68-62 home decision against Butler. The Golden Eagles also suffered a loss at Seton Hall last weekend.

In Orlando, UCF trailed 35-19 with 3:45 left in the first half. At that point, the Jayhawks had shot nearly 80 percent from the floor and UCF knew if it was to mount a comeback, tending to that in the last four minutes of the half was a must.

Guard Darius Johnson hit a three and drove the right baseline for a layup as UCF cut the Kansas lead to 37-29 at halftime. It was a precursor of things to come.

“We got down early in the first half to a really good Kansas basketball team,” said UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins. “In the second half, we started with momentum and were able to take the lead and sustain it for the most part.”

The second half saw UCF as a different defensive team. Changing defenses was a key for the Knights as they used a matchup zone and man-to-man which threw off the Kansas offense.

The Knights held the Jayhawks to 31.8 percent from the floor after intermission as Kansas made only seven shots. UCF forced 18 Jayhawks’ turnovers and scored 18 points off those.

“We knew we had zone in our bag,” acknowledged Dawkins. “It’s something we work on and we felt it was timely to play some today. I think that’s why you saw our guys play it so well.”

UCF is generally a man-to-man team with quick athletic players who force steals and turnovers to make for easier scores.

“It worked out,” explained Dawkins of the zone. “Tonight, it was a defense that we were able to stay with longer. I wasn’t sure how long we would have to stay with it because it was effective at times in the second half for us.”

The Knights cut into the Kansas lead almost immediately at the outset of the second half. When CJ Walker and Ibrahima Diallo made two free throws on back-to-back possessions, the Knights tied the game at 43-43 with 14:04 to play.

Diallo’s length, size and athleticism were problems for Kansas big man Hunter Dickinson as Diallo finished with 13 points, five rebounds and three assists.  Dickinson stayed in foul trouble in the second half as he couldn’t match the quickness of the UCF bigs.

Diallo’s biggest play of the evening happened when he blocked Kansas guard KJ Adams’s jumper from the foul line area when UCF nursed a 61-57 lead. It set up Jaylin Sellers, who scored off a layup and gave the Knights a 63-57 lead with 41 seconds remaining.

“I think that was the best collegiate game Ibrahima has played,” explained Dawkins. “He was big on both ends. Hunter Dickinson is a terrific college basketball player. For Ibrahima to go toe-to-toe with him and battle him in the low post, scoring in the low post, I thought he did an excellent job for us and I am proud of the way he stepped up and gave a huge effort tonight.”

Sellers was 7-of-11 from the field and scored 18 points in 36 minutes for the Knights as he and Darius Johnson dominated backcourt play with Johnson scoring 17. The duo made all seven of the Knights’ threes which proliferated the matchup advantage.

“I feel like we are supposed to do things like this,” said Sellers, who transferred to UCF from Ball State. “We have the players and probably the best coach in the country, so I feel like was are supposed to do things like this.”

When Adams hit a three to cut the Knights’ lead to 57-56 with 3:55 to play, UCF rallied with a 6-0 run and held Kansas to 1-of-6 from the floor for the rest of the game.

“Obviously, we are super excited, but we always know that we can compete at a high level,” said Johnson. “We have to work hard and practice at a high level like before.”

UCF flipped the script after a 77-52 road loss at Kansas State on Saturday. The ability to come back and post a win identified the Knights’ character.

“We came home after a tough road loss and had to play Kansas which is a great team with a Hall of Fame coach and we responded with great effort and energy all night,” Dawkins said.