The Knights (11-3 overall, 1-0 in C-USA) opened league play with a 60-53 win over Tulane (12-3 overall, 0-1 in C-USA) Wednesday night at UCF Arena before an announced crowd of 4,495. It was UCF's 14th consecutive home win.
UCF started last season 14-0, then promptly went on an eight game Conference USA losing streak and finished with a disappointing 6-10 conference record. Junior guard Marcus Jordan said he believed many people dismissed the Knights' win over national powerhouse Connecticut earlier this season because the Knights wilted in Conference USA last season.
Junior forward Keith Clanton said the Knights were eager to start playing more physical games within the conference and prove they are tough enough to win league games.
"Last year, when we went into conference, we didn't do so well," he said. "So this year we're trying to prove ourselves and show what we can do."
Jordan led the Knights with 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting. Senior guard A.J. Rompza chipped in 11 points and four assists. Rompza continued to have a dramatic impact on the team during his second game back from a 12-game absence, helping the Knights hold off a late Tulane surge.
Clanton finished with 12 rebounds and eight points, becoming the seventh player in school history to earn at least 600 career rebounds but leaving him eight points shy of recording 1,000 career points.
The Knights earned the win without UCF head coach Donnie Jones on the sideline. UCF President John Hitt suspended Jones for the first three Conference USA games of the season without pay due to his ties to the ongoing NCAA investigation into the program's recruiting practices. Jones is expected to appeal allegations against him when UCF goes before the NCAA Committee on Infractions in April.
Jones did not report to the UCF basketball complex Wednesday, skipping the team's pregame shoot-around and watching the contest from home.Associate head coach Shawn Finney followed the same routine as Jones throughout the game, urging players to put more defensive pressure on Tulane and seal the win.
Jones will continue to coach his team during practices, but he will not be traveling with the team to its game at East Carolina Saturday at 5 p.m.
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