AMHERST, Mass. (AP) - Marcus Jordan begged Central Florida coach Donnie Jones at halftime to let him play despite a sprained ankle that had kept him out of practice all week.
Was Jones really supposed to say no?
Jordan, son of Michael Jordan, hit five of six foul shots in the final minute to help No. 24 UCF remain unbeaten and hold off Massachusetts 64-59 Wednesday night in the Knights' debut as a nationally ranked team.
``I couldn't take sitting on the bench and just watching the game. I was fighting to get in the first half but he (Jones) wanted to really watch me warm up at halftime,' said Jordan, who finished with seven points and three assists in 15 minutes.
``I really wasn't looking to score. I was just trying to get into the paint and create open shots for my teammates. Playing with this ankle, it's hard to jump, it's hard to do anything, really. I was just really trying to come in and make an impact.'
Keith Clanton had 13 points, eight rebounds and four blocks and Isaac Sosa scored 14 as he started for Jordan, who hadn't practiced since injuring his ankle Saturday in a win over Miami.
The Knights (11-0) were a little out of synch without their sophomore leader, but not enough to get rattled. UCF looked more like a Top 25 veteran than newcomer, especially while holding off the Minutemen (7-4) down the stretch on their home court.
``These guys stayed focused,' Jones said. ``It's been a unique group. They've found a way to deal with a lot of things.'
UCF won despite committing 20 turnovers and getting outrebounded 41-40.
The Minutemen, who lost their fourth straight, had two chances in the final minutes after turnovers by UCF, but rushed two 3-pointers that could have tied it instead of trying for an easier shot to get within one with plenty of time left.
``It's a frustrating loss. We didn't convert down the stretch,' said Anthony Gurley, who led Massachusetts with 17 points. ``This was a very winnable game for us.'
Gurley was the only UMass player to score in double figures.
The Minutemen finished just 2 for 22 on 3-pointers, but never stopped trying from beyond the arc.
Raphiael Putney had a good look with about a minute left, but it bounced off the rim and Putney had to foul Jordan at the other end. Jordan made both free throws for a 59-54 lead with 38.6 seconds left. By the time Gurley hit a 3-pointer with 16 seconds to play - the Minutemen's first in the second half - all the Knights had to do was hit free throws to seal it.
A.J. Rompza hit two to make it 62-57, then Putney missed a dunk and the rebound bounced out of bounds near midcourt as Rompza clapped and shouted ``Game over!' with 9 seconds still on the clock.
The Minutemen were just 1 for 13 on 3-pointers in the second half.
Gurley gave the Minutemen a 41-40 lead with about 12:50 to play, then 15 seconds later Jordan leaped high in the lane and hit a 3-foot floater to put the Knights back up and start a 6-0 run. Gurley made two free throws to end a short drought for Massachusetts, but Sosa answered with a 3-pointer and UCF was back up 48-42.
Massachusetts went without a field goal for more than 6 minutes, but was able to keep the cold-shooting Knights from pulling away.
``We're going through a tough stretch right now,' Gurley said. ``We had had spurts where we played very well defensively. It's just a process. We've got to put it all together next time.'
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved