JU knocks off UCF for Holiday Classic title, 61-51
Ben Smith was named tournament MVP
Ben Smith was named tournament MVP
Ben Smith scored a game-high 20 points and used a stellar defensive effort as the JU men’s basketball team topped UCF, 61-51, for the UCF Holiday Classic title at the UCF Arena.

Named the tournament’s most valuable player, Smith hit 5-of-11 from the floor and knocked down 7-of-10 from the stripe, all in the second half, to lead the Dolphins to their first win at UCF since 2001.

JU (3-7) won its second straight because of its defensive effort. The Dolphins held UCF to 33.3 percent shooting and held the Knights (8-5) to just eight offensive rebounds, with just five second chance points.

“We did a good job on defense and getting stops,” said JU head coach Cliff Warren. “We made some shots down the stretch and didn’t give them second chances.”

After watching UCF battle all the way back from a 15-point deficit in the first half to take a 51-50 lead with 2:38 to go, the Dolphins finished the game on a 12-1 run to take the game and the tournament title.

“That’s what we preach every day in practice – get stops,” Warren said. “We weren’t hitting shots there, but our defensive effort was there and that kept us going.”

The key to the comeback was the 3-pointer. Lehmon Colbert, playing for the first time in since the Florida game, hit a 3-pointer to give JU the lead, 52-50. After a stop, Smith came back to hit a trey on the next possession to put the Dolphins up by five, 55-50.

That trey by Smith was the key to that run as he scored seven of the 12 points during the run. Topping off Smith’s night was his game-high six assists, the 35th time in his career that he has recorded five or more assists in a game.

The Dolphins hit nine 3-pointers in the game, racking up 30 behind the arc in the last three games – with Smith and Travis Cohn connecting on three each. Cohn’s 3-pointers gave him nine points, earning him a spot on the all-tournament team.

JU opened the game with unmatched intensity and a fast break mentality to open up a 15-point lead with 7:32 left in the first half, before the Knights cut the lead to seven at the half despite the Dolphins hitting seven 3-pointers.

UCF got 12 points from Isaac Sosa as well as 10 points and 11 rebounds from Keith Clanton.

Colbert made some huge contributions off the bench, scoring nine points and racking up a team-high six rebounds.

The Dolphins return home for the first time in a month as they jump back into Atlantic Sun Conference play against Mercer on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 3:15 p.m. at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.

With the high scoring night, Smith moved into 41st place on the A-Sun all-time scoring list, passing Samford’s Reed Rawlings.