(Photo by Victor Tan / New Day Review)

Game Recap

ORLANDO, Fla. – The University of Central Florida finished with its first-ever winning season in the American Athletic Conference last season, but that success hasn’t carried over to the 2017-18 season. In the Knights’ season-opener against Mercer University, UCF (0-1) fell to Mercer (1-0) 73-64 at CFE Arena Friday evening.

UCF surged for a fourth-quarter comeback, out-scoring Mercer 27-14 in the final period. But Mercer’s 59-37 lead at the end of the third quarter ultimately proved to be too much for the Knights.

“The fourth quarter is how we should [have] come out starting the game,” second-year UCF head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said after the loss. “[Mercer] came out starting the game ready to go. Obviously, they’re a veteran team… But [Kahlia Lawrence] is a phenomenal player for them. She’s what Aliyah Gregory should have been for us tonight.”

Lawrence scored a game-high 26 points. She started her scoring effort shooting 5-for-8 for 12 points, including 2-for-2 from deep, in the first quarter. After a scoreless second, she scored 12 more in the third, using pull-up jumpers and three-point shooting. Her final two points came on free throws in the fourth.

In Gregory, a preseason All-AAC First Team selection, finished with just four points, three rebounds and two assists on for 2-for-8 shooting.

“They’re keying on her. They’re keying on Aliyah Gregory,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “I mean, I would, too. That’s the best player on the team. So, you know, I think that had a little bit to do with it, too. They did a good job. They didn’t let her get a lot of open shots, but the shots that she did get, they didn’t fall.”

Offensively, UCF shot 45 percent from the field, including 53 percent in the second half, but their 27 total turnovers were ultimately the Knights’ undoing. Last season, UCF averaged just 16.9 turnovers per game.

“That was, you know, pretty much us,” point guard Zakiya Saunders said after the loss. “We weren’t reading each other, not really running our offense properly. So, they played great defense, but we’ll take the blame on this one.”

Saunders was part of UCF’s offensive difficulties. In her Knights debut, she finished 5-for-15 from the field, missing all four of her three-point attempts, and had a game-high seven turnovers.

Poor shooting didn’t just come from Saunders, though, as UCF shot 35.7 percent from the field in the first half, as Mercer out-scored the Knights 36-23 by halftime behind 48.3 percent shooting. Six of the Bears’ field goals also came from behind the arc while the Knights made none of their two early three-point attempts. Mercer led 20-8 after the first, shooting 4-for-6 from deep. In the first period, forward Fifi Ndour scored all eight of UCF’s points while the rest of the team struggled, going 0-for-9.

“It was more, like, just exploiting their zone defense,” Ndour said after the game. “Just doing what I could. The guards did a good job of passing the ball to me when I’m open.”

Player of the Game: G Kahlia Lawrence

Lawrence’s game-high scoring was accomplished through an efficient 10-for-21 shooting clip. She recorded nine of her points on 3-for-6 shooting from deep and added three more on 3-for-3 shooting from the free-throw line. She added three rebounds, an assist, a block and four steals in 33 minutes.

What’s next?

UCF takes to the road for a three-game road trip to face the Chattagnooga Mocs, the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs and the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Knights return home on Nov. 22 for a 2 p.m. game against the Elon Phoenix.

Tolulope Omokore Out for Season with Injury

Forward Tolulope Omokore, the team’s most energetic player, will miss the entire 2017-18 season because of an undisclosed injury. She announced the injury via the Knights’ Twitter account less than an hour before tip-off.

Omokore was a consistent rebounder for UCF last season, recording 6.2 rebounds per game. She also contributed a career-high 7.4 points per game in her second season as a Knight. Her rebounding and energy are what Abrahamson-Henderson will miss the most from her this year.

“She’s such a great energy player for us, and she is a rebounding beast,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “I mean, she’s a lot like Chad [Brown] on the men’s team. I mean, she just brings so much energy. And, you know, losing her really hurts us in the post. Obviously, Fifi did a good job, and [Nyala Shuler’s] always going to play great defense, but, in terms of her rebounding, we’ve been talking about somebody’s gonna have to take that spot because that’s what she does.

“But her energy on the floor and the things she does and how she sets screens and just the little things. So, you know, I’m hoping that at least we’re gonna have her for two more years.”

Highlights

NDR Notes

  • UCF turned the ball over 27 times. Last season, UCF averaged just 16.9 turnovers per game.
  • Gregory finished the game with four points after leading the Knights in scoring with a 16.6 points-per-game average last season.
  • Ndour finished with a 24-point, 12-rebound double-double against Mercer. Her respective averages are 7.0 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game.

Scoring

Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Final
UCF Knights 8 15 14 27 64
Mercer Bears 20 16 23 14 73

Statistics and Starting Lineups

Team Leaders

UCF Knights Mercer Bears
Points Fifi Ndour (24) Kahlia Lawrence (26)
Rebounds Fifi Ndour (12) Amanda Thompson (5)
Assists Korneila Wright (8) Sydni Means (12)
Blocks Fifi Ndour, Kayla Thigpen (1) Rachel Selph (2)
Steals Nyala Shuler (3) Kahlia Lawrence (4)
Turnovers Zakiya Saunders (7) Kahlia Lawrence (7)
Minutes Fifi Ndour, Zakiya Saunders (35) Syndi Means (37)

Team Statistics

Rebounds Assists Blocks Steals Turnovers
UCF Knights 40 22 2 10 27
Mercer Bears 23 17 3 12 17

Shooting Percentages

UCF Knights Mercer Bears
FG% 45.0% 46.4%
3FG% 28.6% 47.1%
FT% 80.0% 86.7%

UCF Knights starting lineup: Zakiya Saunders (G), Aliyah Gregory (G), Jamesha Paul (G), Nyala Shuler (F), Fifi Ndour (F)

Mercer Bears starting lineup: Keke Calloway (G), Sydni Means (G), Kahlia Lawrence (G), Amanda Thompson (F), Rachel Selph (C)


For more on the Knights, as they prepare for an early-season, three-game road trip, follow Victor Tan on Twitter at @NDR_VictorTan.

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