UCF dominates fourth-seed Florida in NIT opener

Mar 10, 2023; Fort Worth, TX, USA; UCF Knights forward Taylor Hendricks (25) in action during the game between the UCF Knights and the Memphis Tigers at Dickies Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

C.J. Kelly led three scorers in double figures with 21 points, lifting UCF to a 67-49 win over Florida in a first-round NIT game Wednesday night in Gainesville, Fla.

Taylor Hendricks added 17 points, eight rebounds and two blocks for the Golden Knights (19-14) who will move on to face the winner of Oregon versus UC Irvine in the second round of the tournament. Ithiel Horton scored 12 points.

Riley Kugel scored 13 points for the Gators (16-17), who finished the year with their first losing record since 2014-15 in Billy Donovan’s final season as coach.

The Gators struggled offensively throughout the game, shooting 32.2 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from 3-point range (4-for-24) while turning the ball over 18 times.

UCF extended a nine-point halftime lead to as many as 24 points in the second half. The Golden Knights shot 40 percent (6-for-15) from 3-point range and dominated inside, outscoring Florida 40-28 in points in the paint.

Hendricks had 13 points in the first half, helping the Golden Knights jump to a 35-26 halftime lead. The Golden Knights forced 13 Florida turnovers in the first half, which they converted to 15 points.

After Florida jumped to an early 9-2 lead on a four-point play from Kugel, UCF took control, erupting for a 24-5 run. Brandon Suggs made a pair of free throws to give UCF an 11-9 lead, then later scored to put the Knights up 26-14 with 6:57 left.

Florida answered with a quick 7-0 run, cutting UCF’s lead to 26-21 on a putback basket by Will Richard.

But the Knights closed the half strong. Up 30-24, UCF scored five straight points on a Hendricks putback and Horton 3-pointer, going up 35-24 with 1:30 left in the half. Florida got a putback layup from Alex Fudge with 35 seconds left in the half to cut UCF’s lead to 35-26.

UCF had its way inside in the first half, outscoring Florida 24-10 on points in the paint. UCF shot 55.6 percent from the field in the first half, compared to 32.1 percent for Florida.

–Field Level Media

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