Gary Clark has seen the University of Central Florida’s 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall for three seasons and he’s still in awe.
Clark, a 6-8 senior at Cincinnati, scored 17 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in helping the Bearcats (16-2, 5-0) to an ugly, but effective 49-38 victory over Fall and the Knights (12-6, 3-3). Jacob Evans added 10 points for the Bearcats, who won their ninth game in a row.
“You watch him on film and then you see him in person and his arms are so long that you don’t know how far he is away from you,” Clark said. “You think you’re open and then he blocks a shot and after that everybody is just trying to get it off as fast as they can.
“Eventually, you just keep faking until you get him off balance and try to slide one past him.”
The Bearcats were doing a lot of that, especially in the first half when they tried to challenge Fall, but rushed things so badly they shot just 23.1 percent.
“Every time we play UCF, there is a shock factor for the first few minutes because of Tacko,” UC coach Mick Cronin said. “The things you normally do, work against you. Then Gary started going at him and it changed the game. Our guys mirror him. He steps it up when he needs to and our guys follow.”
Fall was one of three UCF players to score seven points in what was a frustrating night offensively. The Knights hit just 30 percent of their field goal attempts (15 of 50) and didn’t get Fall involved in the offense until the midway point of the second half when he scored six straight points on two dunks and a layup. Those were his only field goals of the game.
“Our guys have to do a better job of knowing where and when to get Tacko the ball,” UCF coach Johnny Dawkins said. “We’re a little inexperienced on the perimeter and it’s hard for our guys to see when to get him the ball. They’ll get better at it when they get a little more experience.”
Cincinnati, which has suffered slow starts in its last three games, overcame this one by using transition speed to beat the Knights down the court. That was especially effective when Fall was on the bench, which he was when Clark made a layup to put the Bearcats ahead for good at the 13:40 mark of the second half.
Clark’s basket was the start of a 10-2 run that gave Cincinnati a 38-30 advantage.
UCF made a brief run when Fall’s three baskets cut the deficit to 39-36, but the rally died when the Knights center missed two free throws on the next possession.
“Give Cincinnati credit,” Dawkins said. “We had a lot of shots, but none of them were really uncontested. They swarm you, they’re athletic, they make plays and they’re either deflecting balls or changing your shot. That’s a really good defensive team.”
Cincinnati puts its 35-game home winning streak on the line Saturday vs. East Carolina.