Tacko Fall powers UCF past VCU for first NCAA Tournament win in school history
The 7-foot-6 Fall barely left his feet to haul in some rebounds as the Rams helplessly swiped at missed shots and struggled to find open space on drives to their baskets when the Knights‘ towering center was nearby.
VCU tried many things to keep him from getting involved, including sending two people to face guard Fall — or come as close as possible to a player who stands more than a half-foot taller than anyone on the Rams’ roster.
The win, UCF’s first in five NCAA appearances, sets up an intriguing matchup with overall top seed Duke between the game’s tallest player in Fall and its most dynamic star in Blue Devils‘ freshman Zion Williamson on Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16.
UCF (24-8) built a 21-point lead in the second half. The Rams (25-8) narrowed the margin to 62-55 on De’Riante Jenkins’ 3-pointer with 4:53 to go, but could get no closer.
Fall sealed things when he fought through two defenders and threw up a perfect bank shot while falling to the ground to put the Knights up 70-56 with less than three minutes to play. Fall sat for a moment on the court, fist clenched in celebration that for UCF had been a long time coming since its first NCAA appearance in 1994 and its last in 2005.
It was Fall’s 25th career double-double and seventh of the season.
Malik Crowfield had 11 points to lead VCU, a mid-major darling and Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season champions that ended the year with losses in the Atlantic 10 Tournament quarterfinals and now the NCAAs.
The final game in Columbia featured Fall, the senior from Senegal who joined the Knights in 2016. Several times, Fall reached up for rebounds with his feet on the ground. VCU coach Mike Rhoades said he thought about having an assistant stand on a chair with broomsticks to simulate Fall’s massive, 8-4 armspan. It looked like he may have done something like it right before halftime as two VCU defenders surrounded Fall next to the basket, arms extended up near his face as the Knights attempted to inbound the ball with 2.8 seconds left.
The Rams ploy worked as UCF passed it out for a final shot that was off the mark.
The Knights used a 10-0 run over the last three minutes of the half to go out front 34-24 as the Rams finished an awful shooting period by missing their final six shots. VCU was just 8 of 29 from the field and 0 for 9 on 3-pointers after coming in averaging better than seven baskets behind the arc a game.
VCU’s comeback began when it found its outside stroke. After missing its first 13 3-pointers, the Rams went six of 11 from behind the arc to make a run.
UCF: With Fall in the middle, the Knights could battle against most teams, but Duke presents problems. The Blue Devils may have too much freshman firepower to let anyone on the Knights slow them down.
VCU: Too many slow stretches cost the Rams in this one. They gave up the final 10 points of the first half to put themselves in too deep of a hole.
UCF goes against top-seeded Duke in the second round Sunday.
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