The Cougars took a big step in that direction Saturday by earning their first home win over a ranked opponent since 2005. Sophomore forward Kirk Van Slyke scored 15 of his 17 points in the first 8 minutes as Houston built a big early lead and held off No. 19 Central Florida 76-71, handing the Knights their first loss of the season.
"They came out and played at a really high level, and we didn't match their intensity," UCF coach Donnie Jones said. "They made shots, and that's what you've got to do to upset teams."
Zamal Nixon also had 17 points for Houston (9-6, 1-1 Conference USA). Maurice McNeil scored 15 and Alandise Harris added 14.
Keith Clanton and Tom Herzog each scored 13 points for UCF (14-1, 1-1). Leading scorer Marcus Jordan, son of former NBA great Michael Jordan, was held to 10.
Strong shooting and pressure defense gave Houston control from the start as Van Slyke led the Cougars to a 22-8 lead.
On the other end, Jordan, averaging 16.7 points per game, missed his first five field goal attempts, and frustration mounted. Jordan tangled for a loose ball with Houston's Darian Thibodeaux midway through the first half and both players had to be restrained by their teammates.
In the first half the Knights shot only 5 of 22 from the field, including 1 of 6 from beyond the 3-point arc. Houston, meanwhile, was 14 of 29 from the floor and 5 of 8 on 3s. As a result, the Cougars had a 36-21 lead at halftime.
The Knights returned from the locker room with more intensity on defense. Houston's lead dwindled at the start of the second half when UCF pulled within five with 13:24 remaining.
"In those first five minutes of the second half, we knew they'd respond," Dickey said.
Making matters worse for Houston, Van Slyke got into foul trouble and went to the bench for most of the second half. He received a standing ovation when he returned with 3 minutes left, but moments later fouled out.
"I was concerned about our foul trouble throughout the game," Dickey said. "But our players have got to learn to adjust to the officiating."
A fast-break dunk by McNeil gave the Cougars an 11-point lead with 3:16 remaining, sending the crowd into a frenzy. UCF pulled within three with 9 seconds remaining, but Houston held on.
"We kind of made it too exciting there at the end," Dickey said. "But we hit some big free throws, and I'm happy with the win."
Dickey said his team was very encouraged by the crowd of 3,458 and thought it became an intimidation factor for the Knights.
"When we're at home, I want our players to expect to win," Dickey said. "This is a special place with a lot of tradition and history."
While Dickey praised his team's ball movement, Jones said the opposite about his UCF team. The Knights had a season-low six assists and finished 15 of 40 from the field, including 1 of 9 from beyond the 3-point arc.
"We've got to learn from this, and I think we will," Jones said.
A.J. Rompza also had 10 points for the Knights.