“It’s real tough because it’s a home crowd,” Taylor said responding to a question on the 73-66 loss’ effect on he and his teammates. “If we were to beat Memphis, this is where I want to do it. But I don’t think this is our last time seeing Memphis. I think we’re going to see them again in the future. We’re just going to have to come out and give more effort. Play harder.”
The Knights don’t match up with Memphis again this season, meaning Taylor’s last chance to end an 0-fer against the Tigers would have to come in the Conference USA Tournament this March in Memphis.
“All credit to them,” Taylor said. “They’re a good team. They played good defense tonight and they got the win.”
The Knights came close to knocking off the Tigers on Saturday, with the support of a record crowd. 9,825 fans packed UCF Arena, a feat in itself since the arena is only set up to seat 9,500 for basketball.
“I think the reason why we played them so close was because of the fans, their energy,” Taylor added. “They pumped us up and had us ready to go, especially in the first half. I think they had a big part in us coming as close as we did.”
The game seesawed back and forth in the first session, with eight ties and nine lead changes and with the support of the largest contingent of basketball fans in the short, two-year history of the UCF Arena, the Knights jumped out to a 40-39 lead at the break.
Taylor himself scored 14 first half points, burying three momentum changing three pointers. He finished with 24 points against a Memphis defense that keyed on him all game.
“I think I was just patient on offense,” Taylor said. “I let the game come to me. Scoring is something that I do. I’ve been doing it for a while. It kind of comes natural.”
Memphis coach John Calipari was complimentary of the entire UCF program, especially Taylor after the game.
“I told him he’s as good as we’ve seen,” Calipari said. “It’s hard on a team like this where he’s got to do more. If he were on a team with one or two guys who could take it off, you’d see another guy because we geared everything toward stopping him. We did everything to try to hold him back and he still gets 24 and I grabbed him afterwards and told him ‘you’re as good as they come. Just go play.’ “
The Knights extended their halftime edge with an 8-1 run in the first four minutes of the second half. When Taylor knocked down a jumper to make it 48-40, his total was up to 20 points and the Knights led by eight.
“I was just trying to focus on getting us the win,” Taylor said. “I looked up, saw us up eight and the only thing that crossed my mind was just keep pushing. Just keep trying to play defense, trying to stop them and get the win.”
But the Tigers went on an 8-2 run to draw within two. Issac Sosa reignited the crowd with by draining a three to lift the lead to five, but that was the last field goal the Knights would hit for more than 11 minutes, thanks to a suffocating Memphis defense.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” UCF Coach Kirk Speraw said. “I think during that period we turned the ball over three out of four possessions. Is that us? Is that them? I think it’s probably a combination of both.”
Memphis outscored UCF 21-7 during that stretch to pull away. When Tony Davis broke the ice with a layup, the Knights trailed 69-62 with 3:34 to go.
The Knights had one more rally in them, pulling to within three, 69-66, with 51 seconds on the clock on four points by Taylor, but Memphis’s standout freshman Tyreke Evans penetrated the lane for a basket and Taylor had a shot blocked by Robert Dozier to seal it.
UCF forward Tony Davis had his second double-double of the season, with 16 points and 10 boards and Kenrick Zondervan chipped in 10 points for the Knights.
Memphis used a balanced scoring attack to topple the Knights as four players scored in double-digits. Antonio Anderson, Robert Dozier and Evans each finished with 15 points and Doneal Mack added 11.
But after the game it was the UCF atmosphere that had Calipari fired up.
“How bout that crowd? I’m going to tell you, we played in Georgetown. Better environment, right here. All I’m saying to this community is you’ve got a jewel here,” Calipari said. “I would tell all these fans to jump on this program. Are you crazy? If you were in this gym, you would be coming back to every other game…what I saw out there, if you’ll do that to them, this program will take off. You get there and do it and this thing is taking off because they have everything, including the coach, that they need to go do this. And I’m rooting for them every game now, because we don’t play them anymore.”
Speraw seconded Calipari’s sentiment.
“Cal sees the potential that’s here. He doesn’t understand why the community and the interest and the coverage isn’t that way all the time. Look at what we could have if everybody buys in. And for whatever reason we haven’t gotten everybody to buy in...there’s always some reason why. I don’t know why. This is what we could have if the community, the media, the student body and our administration buy in. This is what we could have every night.”
The Knights take to the road for two crucial C-USA road games this week. They played lost at UAB last night and will be at Rice University in Houston, Texas this Saturday night. The UCF men return home Wednesday, January 21, at 7 p.m. against Southern Miss.
“I think it’s a momentum builder for us, coming into our next game,” Taylor said. “Memphis is a good team, but it’s Conference USA, every game is going to be a battle I think. It’s pointing in the right direction for us so we’ve just got to keep pushing.
“I think, the way the crowd was tonight, if it’s like that every game we will play good teams down to the wire like this, but we won’t come up short.”