(Associated Press) – With five starters returning from an NCAA tournament team, Florida was a trendy pick to win the Southeastern Conference and make a deep postseason run.
Now, they might be considered one of the nation’s biggest disappointments.
Marcus Jordan scored 18 points, Keith Clanton hit two free throws in the final seconds and Central Florida upset the 18th-ranked Gators 57-54 on Wednesday night.
Florida (5-2), ranked ninth in The Associated Press preseason poll, lost to the Knights for the first time in 10 meetings and could drop from the poll after another lackluster effort.
“Our issues are bigger than this loss,” said Donovan, whose team eked out wins over Morehead State, Florida Atlantic and Florida State. “We have a bunch of guys on the floor that make nobody better.”
Donovan said he is considering making changes, possibly as drastic as swapping some of his veteran starters for newcomers.
UCF (6-0) doesn’t want to change much after getting first-year coach Donnie Jones a signature win over his former boss. Jones spent more than a decade on Donovan’s staff. The two exchanged a hug and a few words after the game.
“If we would have won the game, it would have been a complete steal,” Donovan said. “I would have felt bad for Donnie. Never mind how he would have felt. I would have gave him the win.”
He didn’t have to.
Michael Jordan’s son made certain of that. Jordan was 6 of 11 from the field and played tight defense, creating all kinds of problems for the Gators.
He clamped down on Florida’s leading scorers, Kenny Boynton and Chandler Parsons, and broke down Florida’s perimeter defense at will. His biggest shots came at the free throw line. He hit two with 24 seconds remaining, putting the Knights up 55-52.
Erving Walker and Boynton missed 3-pointers, and Clanton made two free throws that pretty much sealed it.
“You almost feel guilty that you won,” Jones said. “Billy, right from the beginning, was telling me how proud he was of me and I deserved to win. He told me three times. He about had me crying at halfcourt. But it was a great victory for our program.”
The Knights led most of the game, but let Florida stay close by missing 14 consecutive shots in a 7½-minute span in the second half. The Gators used a 10-0 run to take a 46-44 lead midway through the second half.
Vernon Macklin carried Florida all game, hitting hook shot after hook shot. He finished with 20 points on 10-of-11 shooting and had eight rebounds.
Macklin’s left-handed layup cut UCF’s lead to 53-52 with a minute left. Isaiah Sykes threw away the inbounds pass, giving Florida a chance to take the lead.
But Boynton missed an open jumper with 35 seconds remaining. Jordan hit both free throws on the other end, then Clanton hit two foul shots with 9.4 seconds remaining to give the Knights a five-point lead.
Walker responded with a driving layup, and Clanton gave the Gators even more life when he missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but Walker knocked the loose ball out of bounds with 1.2 seconds left.
The Knights finally could celebrate.
The Gators, meanwhile, trudged off the court.
“You’ve got to respond now,” said Boynton, who had 10 points. “Can’t put our head down now. We’re in the beginning of the season. We’ve got good teams coming up, so we’ve got to build up, get stronger.”
Parsons had the most to sulk about after a miserable return to his hometown. With at least 75 friends and family members in attendance, Parsons missed eight of nine shots, including all three 3-point attempts, and even more stunning, whiffed on six free throws.
“Couldn’t get any worse,” Parsons said.
It couldn’t get any better for the Knights.
“I’m just kind of at a loss for words right now,” Jones said. “It’s kind of surreal this happened.”