ORLANDO, Fla. -- Central Florida quickly picked up on how to deal with the grind of American Athletic Conference play Saturday
Isaiah Sykes had 23 points and 15 rebounds as Central Florida bounced back from Wednesday's 25-point home loss to defending national champion Louisville with a 78-76 victory over Temple.
Eugene McCroy also had a double-double for the Knights with 18 points and 10 boards, Kasey Wilson scored 18, and Calvin Newell hit 3 of 4 throws in the final 31.6 seconds to clinch the team's first victory in the AAC.
UCF coach Donnie Jones wrote the word "grind" on the locker room board and told the Knights (9-4, 1-1) this would be that type of game. Temple (5-7, 0-2) tied it at 66 with 5:48 remaining, but the Knights scored the next four points and kept the Owls at bay down the stretch.
"When people asked what I thought about this league, I said you couldn't be too high after a victory or too low after a loss," Jones said. "We did a good job of recovering from the Louisville loss."
Sykes, a 6-6 senior from Detroit, had his double-double (11 points and 10 rebounds) by halftime and spent most of the second half trying to slow down Temple's Will Cummings, who led all scorers with a career-high 31.
Cummings scored 20 in the first half, but was limited to 11 in the second.
"I love to compete and accept the challenge," said Sykes, who matched his career scoring high. "Coach Jones asked me to step up and check (Cummings). My focus was to contain him and my teammates did a good job of helping me stay in front of him."
Temple took its last lead at 44-43 on a Quenton DeCosey layup with 17:29 remaining. The Owls erased their largest deficit (66-59) with a 7-0 run on a Josh Brown basket with 5:48 left, but could never take the lead.
"Sykes was really good. He got a couple of stick-back baskets that hurt us," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "We needed to do a better job of getting stops on him."
Dunphy said an early second half foul took Cummings out of his rhythm.
"The first half he was absolutely tremendous," Dunphy said. "If he had not gotten that foul, it would have been different. We had to take him out."
The Knights jumped out to an early 20-6 lead on a Sykes' lay-up with 13:47 remaining, but Temple used a 19-4 run to take the lead at 25-24 with 7:40 left on a Cummings jumper.
The Owls led 28-24 on a Cummings three-point play on the next possession, but Central Florida managed a 40-38 halftime lead on Wilson's three-pointer with 29 seconds to play.
DeCosey had 14 points for the Owls, while Anthony Lee added 12. The Owls lost forward Mark Williams to a sprained ankle in the first half, leaving them with eight players, including a walk-on, the rest of the way.