After watching his team lose the lead before recovering in the closing seconds of an 83-80 win over South Dakota State on Sunday night, UCF coach Johnny Dawkins had a ready-made answer when asked what he had learned about his squad.
“That we’re resilient,” Dawkins said on his radio show. “We’re resilient. One thing I know about our team is that they keep on coming. They keep on fighting and give us an opportunity every night.”
The Knights (3-1) will head into Monday night’s meeting with Charlotte (3-1) in the championship game of the Coast Bracket of the Jacksonville Classic in St. Augustine, Fla.
UCF received a game-high 22 points out of New Mexico State transfer Marchelus Avery and 20 from Jaylin Sellers on Sunday. The Knights secured the win when Sellers and Omar Payne hit four free throws in the closing seconds.
The dramatic finish ended a 40-minute struggle in which no more than eight points separated the teams at any point of the contest. The stretch run saw the Jackrabbits overcome a six-point deficit with less than three minutes left before the Knights answered with Darius Johnson’s two baskets and the final free throws in the final minute.
Charlotte won its first-round game over George Mason in similar fashion. The 49ers made four key stops down the stretch, and Igor Milicic Jr. was 6 of 8 from the free-throw line in the final minute of the 49ers’ 54-49 victory Sunday. Milicic posted his third consecutive double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
“He’s grown from last year, and he will continue to grow through the season,” Charlotte coach Aaron Fearne said of the 6-foot-10 junior. “He’s been doing some good stuff for us at this point.”
Lu’Cye Patterson made 7 of 14 shots from the floor and finished with a game-high 18 points against George Mason. He is averaging 12.5 points per contest, just under Milicic (13.0) for top honors on the team.