Florida falls short to Central Florida in NIT
WHAT HAPPENED: Freshman forward Taylor Hendricks scored 17 points, grabbed eight rebounds, blocked a couple shots and was the big hitter for a Central Florida squad that ran roughshod over Florida on the way to a lopsided 67-49 victory Wednesday night in opening-round play of the National Invitational Tournament at Exactech Arena/O'Connell Center. Hendricks, being billed as a likely first-round NBA draft pick this June, hit eight of his 11 field-goal attempts to set the tone for a UCF squad that connected on nearly 53 percent for the game -- outscoring UF 40-28 on points in the paint -- and defensively smothered the Gators into just 32-percent shooting for the game. Florida was led by freshman guard Riley Kugel's 13 points, his 10th straight game in double figures, with the next high-scoring Gators being fifth-year senior Myreon Jones and backup guards Niels Lane and Denzel Aberdeen with just six points, as no other UF player could find his shot. Case in point: the trio of forward Alex Fudge, backup wing Kowacie Reeves and Jones combined to go four of 23 for the game. It was that kind of night for the home team. Though they fell behind 9-2 to start the game, the Knights quickly shook off the slow start and seized complete control of the game, courtesy of an 20-3 run that was aided by a chunk of the 13 Florida's turnovers over the first 20 minutes. UCF, with Hendricks racking up 13 points, shot 57 percent in the half versus just 32 for UF and outscored the Gators 24-10 in the paint. The second half was basically more of the same, with the Knights building a lead that swelled to as many as 24 with two minutes remaining. UCF was led by guard C.J Kelly's game-high 21 points, plus 12 more from guard Ithiel Horton. Backup forward Lahat Thioune had a game-high 10 rebounds, as the Knights worked the Gators 39-29 on the glass.
UF sophomore forward Alex Fudge (3) blocks UCF center Michael Durr (2) during the first half Wednesday night. WHAT IT MEANS: With the loss, the Gators have the program's first losing season since 2014-15 (the team's last under Billy Donovan) and just the second sub-.500 final record of this century. Five of the previous six UF coaches, dating to the re-hiring of Norm Sloan in 1980, posted losing records their first season, with the lone exception being Mike White, who went 21-13 after taking over for Donovan in '15-16.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: A handful of NBA scouts were in the house to watch Hendricks. He did not disappoint, as the Knights improved to 19-14 on the season and beat the Gators for just the second time in 12 all-time meetings. Remember, UCF moves to the powerful Big 12 next season, so the Knights will have some unique to talk about on the recruiting trails.
STAGGERING STATISTIC: The Gators came in averaging 11.0 turnovers per game. Their 11th came at the 6:04 mark of the first period. UF finished with 18 turnovers for the game. UF's 49 points were the fewest scored by the team since a 64-49 loss to eighth-ranked Michigan in second-round play of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Dallas.
UP NEXT: For Florida (16-17), it's time to hit the transfer portal. Hard.