UCF took the Sun Dome floor Saturday with 7-foot-6 junior Tacko Fall and two other key contributors in street clothes. For USF, winless in American Athletic Conference play, the planets appeared poised to finally align.
Planets weren't the problem. It was UCF's shooting star — veteran point guard B.J. Taylor
Sidelined 16 games by a foot injury, Taylor scored 16 of his 25 points in the second half as UCF (13-6, 4-3) rallied from an eight-point second-half deficit for a 71-69 victory against the Bulls (7-13, 0-7). His traditional three-point play with 2:58 to go gave the Knights a 61-59 lead.
His deep 3-pointer from the top of the key a minute later — following a USF turnover — gave them a 64-59 advantage.
"He took over the game at the end," Bulls first-year coach Brian Gregory said. "And that's what upperclass guards are supposed to do."
Taylor's late dynamics were preceded by some of USF's best basketball of the season. Before an energetic Sun Dome crowd of 4,611, USF finished with only 11 turnovers (its lowest total in a conference game), assisted on 15 of its 24 field goals and went 14-of-16 from the free-throw line.
"You saw some of the things we're gonna build on tonight," Gregory said.
The Bulls hit six of 14 3-pointers in the first half en route to 36-29 halftime lead, with senior point guard Stephan Jiggetts hitting three of them and scoring 13 before intermission.
But UCF, missing Fall (shoulder) and top rebounder A.J. Davis (ankle), shot 69.6 percent (16-of-23) from the floor in the second half. Worse for USF, three of its 11 turnovers occurred in the last 2:29.
Taylor's late 3-pointer was followed by a Payton Banks turnover, and Taylor made USF pay with an alley-oop to Chad Brown, who dunked and was fouled.
USF answered when freshman David Collins (14 points) was fouled on a short jumper and hit the ensuing free throw, cutting UCF's lead to 67-62 with 1:01 to go. He hit two more free throws with 36.7 seconds to play and — after a Knights miss — appeared set to make a move toward the basket, but was whistled for having a foot out of bounds with 24.9 seconds to play.
"One of the things that all freshmen do is take a false step sometimes before they go," Gregory said. "They catch it and the foot moves backwards first, and then forward, and that's what he did.
"He's a gritty player, and before it's all said and done, I promise we're gonna win a lot of games with him playing."