After UCF’s upset of Memphis, NCAA tournament chances rise

CJ Kelly used one word to describe UCF men’s basketball 107-104 double overtime win vs. Memphis on Wednesday night: Chaotic.

“It was really wild,” the senior guard said after scoring 21 points off the bench. “Going up and getting a big lead, to getting down and having to fight back in double overtime.

“Then watching Kendric Davis shoot 23 free throws, to having [Taylor Hendricks] go out and seeing other guys step up. You can’t script this type of game.”

The Knights trailed by 14 points with 16:02 remaining in regulation before clawing back. Even with 52 seconds on the clock, Memphis led by 5 but UCF forced overtime thanks to a late 3-point basket by Ithiel Horton (30 points).

The Knights found themselves up 5 with 49 seconds remaining in the first extra period before the Tigers came back to force double overtime. UCF, however, never trailed again.

“We’re a resilient team and we fight. That’s really it,” Kelly said. “We feel like we’re never out of a game.”

UCF (13-4. 4-1 AAC) improved to 3-1 in overtime. The Knights lost their season opener 98-95 to UNC Asheville in double OT.

Taylor Hendricks

Hendricks credited that experience fo helping UCF not falter under pressure Wednesday.

“We went through that and we’ve been through a couple of other overtime games,” he said. “Just being in those situations [helps].”

The result moved UCF into a three-way tie for second place in the AAC with Tulane and Temple and behind Houston, the No. 1 team in this week’s AP Top 25 poll.

The hard-fought win over the Tigers could have implications for the NCAA tournament.

“There was talk about both of us being on the bubble so this definitely helps our chances later in March, but we’re going to see them again at their place and try to play better,” Hendricks said.

Entering the game, ESPN projected Memphis as one of the last four teams to make the tournament. UCF was one of the first four teams on the outside looking in the projected bracket.

“People just had Memphis already going to the dance,” Kelly said. “They cast us to the side so we’ve seen the rankings and it’s personal. Every team that’s in front of us that we see … we take very personally.

“Memphis was supposed to be given the second spot [in the AAC] so we definitely had to pack them up.”

Kelly, who transferred to UCF after two years at UMass, is hoping the win can change the narrative about what’s possible for the Knights.

“I’m new to this conference and all I know is they kept talking about Memphis and Houston, Memphis and Houston,” he said. “It was just like, ‘OK, what about UCF?’”

The Knights moved up two spots to No. 35 in the NCAA’s NET rankings after the win. Coach Johnny Dawkins discussed how his team plans to build off it.

“We have to remember the things we did well going forward, put it in perspective that it’s one game and move on to the next play,” he said. “We have a quick turnaround and we hit the road again.”

The two-game road trip, which includes a meeting with rival USF, begins Saturday at Tulane.

“They’re a really good basketball team as well with a lot of talent,” Dawkins said about the Green Wave. “It’s going to be another tough test for us.”

Email Jason Beede at or follow him on Twitter at @therealBeede.

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