- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 29, 2014

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - In dropping five of his first six American Athletic Conference games, UCF has had a repetitive story to tell.

The Knights would stay close before failing to respond to opponents’ late-game runs.

That familiar story got its latest chapter Wednesday night as turnovers and lack of stops on the defensive end late added up to a 69-59 loss to No. 22 Memphis.

Isaiah Sykes led UCF with 24 points, but was just 4 of 11 from the field in the second half. The Knights (9-9, 1-6 American) had 19 second-chance points, but gave up 17 fast break points. UCF was within a basket for most of the second half, but was outscored 13-5 to end the game.

“Empty possessions,” UCF coach Donnie Jones said of his team’s play down the stretch. “Early on they made a run and we battled back and went on a run to get back into the game. … I called a timeout there during one of those runs to try to gather ourselves. But we had a couple of times there with open possessions and we missed shots.

“You have five or six empty possessions there in a row and it takes the gas out of your team.”

The loss was UCF’s fifth straight and drops the Knights to 1-15 all-time against the Tigers.

Joe Jackson scored 17 points and Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon added 12 each to lead Memphis (16-4, 6-2), which won its fourth straight. The Tigers extended their conference road winning streak to 16 games.

Memphis struggled to get distance from the Knights in the second half, but was able to carve out a 66-58 lead with 3:59 to play on a layup by Jackson

The Tigers got the ball back on a steal by David Pellom and forced UCF into a foul on the ensuing possession. But Shaq Goodwin came up empty at the free throw line.

UCF’s Matt Williams was fouled shooting a 3-pointer on the other end, but made one of three free throws.

The Tigers were able to eat up some clock over the next few minutes and continued to force the Knights into turnovers. Jackson hit three free throws in the final 1:09 to secure the win.

“That was a very good win. That’s a good team and on the road - I don’t care what anyone says- on the road they’re hard,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “We won through the defensive end. Heck, first half they’re shooting 60 some odd percent and we’re not getting any stops. Isaiah Sykes was literally Magic Johnson in the first half.”

In the end, though, the Tigers were able to settle down on that end of the court, holding the Knights to 39 percent shooting from the field and 21 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

“We made 3s and we did a good job defending the 3. That’s what it comes down to,” Pastner said.

It was tied at 39 at halftime after solid shooting efforts by both teams.

Memphis had as much as an eight-point lead early before UCF used an 8-0 spurt to take a brief lead late in the half.

Sykes had 16 first-half points to lead the Knights, which outscored the Tigers 22-18 in the paint. UCF held a 10-2 edge in second-chance points.

The Knights entered the night shooting a league-worst 37 percent in conference games, but shot 50 percent in the opening 20 minutes.

Memphis shot 62 percent, but had some collapses in its zone that allowed UCF to get some uncontested layups.

Jackson started slow for the Tigers, but was able to get some easy layups off three steals and finished with 10 first-half points.

Despite his team’s recent setbacks, Jones said he likes the way his team is trending.

“I’m proud of this basketball team. We’ve gotten better in a lot of ways. I think we’re growing,” he said. “We just need to compete and work. There’s no time for feeling sorry for ourselves. We’ll just get back to work tomorrow.”


Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/khightower

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