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Second-half surge not enough as UCF men lose at home to Ole Miss

If the UCF men’s basketball team wanted to get a true test as to what it could be like in its first season in the Big 12, the Knights got it Sunday afternoon.

It was a furious finish and a heartbreaking loss.

Shemarri Allen scored 14 points, including a one-handed dunk with 16:54 left in the second half that brought the fans at Addition Financial Arena to their feet and started a surge that helped UCF crawl back into its game with Ole Miss. But it wasn’t enough as the Knights ran out of gas late and fell to the Rebels, 70-68.

“I felt it was like a Big 12 game or what I envision being in a Big 12 game or when I was in the ACC playing and coaching, a similar type of thing,” said UCF coach Johnny Dawkins. “That’s what you want. You want to be in games like that. That’s the only way you can learn and win games: to be in these experiences and grow from them.”

UCF (6-3, 0-0 Big 12) trailed for nearly 25 minutes but used two turnovers in the final 52 seconds to cut the lead to 1 but couldn’t find a way to get the win.

Marchelus Avery’s shot at the buzzer was waved off by officials.

“We can still learn from this experience and get better from it — if we use it the right way,”  Dawkins said.

Darius Johnson had a team-high 25 points and Jaylin Sellers, who entered the game leading the Big 12 in scoring with 20.6 points per game, had 11.

The Rebels (9-0, 0-0 SEC) were paced by guard Allen Flannigan (16 points).

“There’s disappointment,” said Johnson. “We had some plays that we wish we could have had back in, but it starts with me. Having four turnovers is unacceptable. That’s 12 points right there and I missed three free throws and we lost by two. So it starts right there with me.”

UCF hit just 36.8% (21 of 57) of its shots from the floor and just 18% (4 of 22) of its 3-pointers.

This was the fifth meeting in this series, with Ole Miss holding a 3-1 advantage coming in after UCF won 72-61 last year on the road.

Guard Antwann Jones debuted for the Knights after sitting out the first 8 games while dealing with eligibility issues. After transferring from Louisiana, the former Oak Ridge High product was one of 10 newcomers to the roster this offseason.

Jones played 7 minutes in the first half and finished the game with three points, four rebounds and three assists.

It was a physical game, with the teams combining for 45 fouls and 68 free-throw attempts.

Ole Miss coach Chris Beard spent seven seasons in the Big 12 — first at Texas Tech (2016-21) where he led the Red Raiders to the 2019 national title game and then two seasons at Texas (2021-23) — before being fired after an arrest on a felony charge of assault on a family member on Dec. 12, 2022.

“That felt like a Big 12 game,” said Beard. “I predicted that they’ll be a good team, a team that will be competitive in the Big 12 and have a chance to win some games in the league. No doubt.”

Email Matt Murschel at moc.lenitnesodnalro@lehcsrumm or follow him on Twitter at @osmattmurschel.

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