MB Invitational: UCF goes to varying heights for title

Aubrey Dawkins put the game out of reach with his shooting. Then Tacko Fall put the championship trophy out of reach with his height.

Dawkins scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting with five 3-pointers to help lead UCF to a 78-62 victory over Western Kentucky in the championship game of the inaugural Myrtle Beach Invitational at the HTC Center in Conway. Dawkins’ trey to open the second half sparked a 17-4 run that gave the Knights a lead they never relinquished.

Afterward, when the team was presented with the championship trophy at center court of the HTC Center, the 7-foot-6 Fall – who had 13 points and six rebounds – grabbed it and hoisted it skyward, forcing his teammates to jump up and down in a futile effort to touch it.

“We all looked like his little kids,” Dawkins said with a smile.

There was nothing childish about the performance UCF (4-1) put on in the second half. After trailing by 11 in the first half, the Knights chipped away to cut their deficit to 32-28 at halftime. Then Dawkins drained a pair of 3-pointers in the opening minute of the second, and barely four minutes after intermission UCF had built a 45-36 lead.

“Give Central Florida a lot of credit. They came out in the second half and played with some maturity and toughness,” WKU coach Rick Stansbury said. “And it’s not just the points. It’s the emotion swing that the two teams get. That changed the whole complexity of the game.”

Still, behind 25 points and 10 rebounds from freshman center Charles Bassey, the Hilltoppers (3-2) managed to keep it close for much of the second half and trailed by only six at 60-54 with seven minutes left. But they couldn’t overcome UCF’s inside-outside attack of 3-point shooting (10-of-20 overall) combined with Fall’s imposing presence in the middle.

“Tacko makes a lot of things change in there. He was a big factor,” Stansbury said. “We won’t play against too many more people like Tacko. He just makes you do some things differently, makes you alter things. Their zone was pretty effective with him in there.”

The tournament was a special moment for UCF coach Johnny Dawkins. Not only did he win his first tournament title in three seasons with the Knights, but his son was named tourney MVP a year after sitting out the entire season with a shoulder injury

“Two years ago we were playing in the same type of game in another tournament (the Charleston Classic), and we weren’t quite there and came up a little short (losing to Villanova in the title game)” Dawkins said. “This time, I think our experience won out in the second half.

“I’m really proud of (Aubrey). Happy for him because he’s been shaking off some rust. To see him play the way we know he’s capable of playing was great. He couldn’t have picked a better time to do it.”

Photo courtesy of MB Invitational

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