Neither Mercer nor the injury bug could stop UCF on Friday night as the Knights used a big second half to pull away from the Bears in a 88-79 win at CFE Arena.
Redshirt junior guard Aubrey Dawkins announced last week that he would be missing the season. Then starting junior center Tacko Fall was ruled out before the game. To compound things, all-conference candidate, junior guard B.J. Taylor injured his foot during the second half.
UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins said that Fall has a hip injury and should be back soon. Taylor’s injury is unknown, but coach Dawkins says that they’ll have more information after Taylor sees a doctor on Saturday.
In the absence of Dawkins, Fall and Taylor, Senior forward A.J. Davis, junior guard Dayon Griffin and freshman guard Ceasar DeJesus stepped up. Davis pulled down 15 boards, while DeJesus and Griffin both tied for the team-high 16 points.
It is UCF’s newfound depth that helped cover for the loss of three key players.
“It felt good to see so many different guys do so many different things,” said Davis. “A lot of times we had to rely on just our same guys.
“To be able to even rest for a little bit; that felt great,” he continued.
UCF struggled to guard Mercer from the very start. The Bears shot 50 percent in the first half, including 44.4 percent from behind the arc. Mercer senior guard Ria’n Holland scored 21 of his 31 points in the first half to help Mercer take a 47-46 lead into halftime.
The second half was a much different story. After Mercer tied the game at 50 with 17:47 left to go, UCF proceeded to go on a 12-0 run over the next 4:47 to take a lead Mercer never recovered from.
Much of that turnaround had to do with a renewed focus on the defensive end. Mercer only shot 29.4 percent in the second half as UCF locked-in and was able to hold Mercer scoreless for minutes at a time.
“I think defensively in the first half we played with some jitters. I don’t think we played as well as I know we’re capable of,” coach Dawkins said. “I thought we turned that around in the second half.”
UCF next takes the floor in a home tilt against Gardner-Webb on Nov. 15. Mercer returns to action on Sunday against Toccoa Falls.