MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Memphis wasn't supposed to struggle against a team tied for last in the American Athletic Conference. Still it took a late burst for the 20th-ranked Tigers to escape with the win.
The Tigers (19-5, 8-3 American Athletic Conference) crafted a 15-2 run in the latter stages of the second half to break open a tight game.
"We found a way to get the W," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "It was not pretty. You've got to give Central Florida credit. But we got the W, that's the bottom line."
Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon finished with 10 points each for Memphis.
Tristan Spurlock led the Knights (9-13, 1-10) with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Isaiah Sykes scored 14 points, but was 6 of 16 from the field. Kasey Wilson scored 10 as Central Florida lost its ninth straight.
Calvin Newell, who entered the game averaging 11 points, was held to 3, finishing 1 of 5 from the field.
"There were a lot of great efforts from our team," Central Florida coach Donnie Jones said. "I love the way they're cheering for each other. .There are things that don't show up in the win column. There are a lot of good things to look at. We just have to get a jumpstart."
The 15-2 rally took the Memphis lead to 68-54 when Dixon hit two free throws with 2:13 left.
The Knights chipped away at the advantage in the final two minutes, but it was too large for them to threaten down the stretch.
"They hit a 3 and that's what good team's do," Jones said of the Tigers. "Then we missed, we come down and foul. They miss the free throws and get those offensive rebounds. Before you know it, it's an 8-0 run and we're trying to catch up."
Memphis continually struggled to hold onto the basketball in the second half as the UCF defense became physical and pestered the Tigers. Additionally, the Knights were controlling the boards, particularly the offensive glass. The Tigers led 53-52 with 5:16 left after a dunk by Wilson.
Then Memphis took over with its game-changing run. A dunk by David Pellom on a fastbreak after a Central Florida turnover made it 64-54 with 3:32 left.
"It was gut-check time," Pellom said, later adding: "We did not carry over our progress in the first half into the second half, and UCF took advantage of it."
Memphis appeared in control of the game during the middle stages of the first half. UCF went almost 6 minutes without scoring as the Tigers clicked off 16 consecutive points for a 29-16 lead.
But the Knights answered with 10 straight, and Memphis managed to reach halftime with a 36-30 lead, thanks to a last-second basket by Pellom -- his only field goal of the half.
At one point in the first half, official Jim Burr had a fan tossed from the front row after the spectator said something to the veteran referee. It was unclear exactly what was said.
While Pastner acknowledged his team's energy was good, the Tigers were off on their execution, and he also was disturbed by the Knights rebounding advantage.
And despite coming off a win over nationally-ranked Gonzaga last Saturday and traveling to No. 24 Connecticut this Saturday, players were adamant they didn't overlook Central Florida.
"This is a tough league," Dixon said. "UCF probably doesn't have the record that they want, but they've been in a lot of ball games until the end. ... We didn't play the way we were supposed to necessarily, but we came out with the win, and that's all that really matters in the end."