March Madness, much like life, is far from fair. Actually, there are times it can be downright cruel. One team’s fortune is another’s misfortune this time of year, and nobody is feeling that quite like the UCF Knights right now.
The ninth-seeded Knights had No. 1 Duke on the ropes. Man, they had the game won. Yet, for whatever reason, the basketball gods had other plans in mind as the Blue Devils escaped in the second round of the NCAA Tournament 77-76 on Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16.
With the entire nation watching, hoping their bracket wouldn’t bust on the first weekend, UCF guard BJ Taylor had a shot in the closing seconds to seal the upset, but it fell off the rim. Then, star forward Aubrey Dawkins flew in for a tip and the ball somehow fell off the rim again to give Duke the win.
The final moments were heartbreaking. Seriously, it was one of the most painful ways to lose a college basketball game ever. UCF had done everything right to upset Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils. However, it wasn’t meant to be.
As anyone could imagine, the UCF locker room was full of tears. Dawkins played his way to national prominence with 32 points. Taylor added 15. Tacko Fall, the Knights’ 7-foot-6 rim protector, made a difference all night with 15 points, six rebounds, and three blocks, too.
And all they have to show for it at the end of the day is a loss and an early NCAA Tournament exit.
What do you even say to a group of kids who just battled for 40 minutes only to come up less than an inch short? Well, UCF coach Johnny Dawkins, who was a two-time All-American for Duke and Coach K back in the 1980s, put it perfectly in his postgame speech on Sunday night.
In a college basketball landscape marred by scandal and controversy, Johnny Dawkins showed exactly what it’s like to be incredible leader and mentor. Hearing his players crying in the background is tough, but what he said was so incredible and reminded us all while we love this time of year. We get to see men like Dawkins show just how much this tournament and these moments mean to everyone.
“What you did this year, not just tonight, but what you did this year, representing our program, representing our university, I couldn’t be more proud of how you handled yourself on and off the court. You guys have been terrific. And look men, we always say it’s going to end two ways when you invest like we invest. We are going to end celebrating or we are going to end crying. We are going to end in tears. We end in tears. That’s because we invested so much in each other and so much in what we were doing. I told you guys before, I love you guys. It’s been amazing coaching this group, and for us, we have a lot of good memories, man. A lot of good memories. We have accomplished a lot of amazing things this year. And I know that doesn’t do anything for us right now, but at some point in time, it will. So again, I know it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt for a while. I’ve been here before and it’s the same thing. But, we’re proud of you guys, we’re proud of the effort and energy you gave us all year long.”
— UCF Knights Head Coach Johnny Dawkins
We have all been there before. In many ways, we felt the pain of UCF men’s basketball, too. But although life and March Madness isn’t fair, this is what makes it all so great and so heartbreaking all at the same time.