Gator Freshmen Solid in Opener

One thing Billy Donovan could always count on over the last two years was his team playing with maximum energy and effort. Since practice kicked off a few weeks ago, that was his biggest concern, but his very young basketball team responded in their first exhibition game of the season.

Florida came out and played with a high level of energy, and it paid off as the Gators defeated Flagler 97-51 in front of 10,444 at the O'Connell Center on Thursday night.

"Our first priority was to play with the energy and passion we need to have to compete," Billy Donovan said. "The next thing we talked about was making an effort to get to the basket and have a chance to rebound the basketball. And the third thing was offensively for us to pass it, move it and make the game easy. On those three things, I think our guys did a pretty good job."

The Gators outrebounded Flagler 59-33 and dished out 22 assists against 12 turnovers. Led by Marreese Speights who finished with a game-high 22 points and freshmen Nick Calathes who finished with 18 points, the Gators used a first half 14-0 run and a 26-9 run in the second half to distance themselves from the visiting Saints.

"It was a good game for them to get their feet wet after practicing for two and half weeks," Donovan said. "It was probably good for them to play against someone else besides themselves."

The freshmen five played exceptionally well with all five scoring in double figures.

"I was pleased with them," Donovan said. "There's a level of toughness, a level of confidence or whatever word you want to use with them. They played with good energy. We got bailed out on some situations defensively because of our size and length. They like playing, they like competing, and they play well when all five of them are out there at the same time."

Donovan went to the five freshmen lineup for a good portion of the second half, but it was obvious that Calathes will be a major contributor throughout the season. The two-time Florida high school player of the year added 13 rebounds and 8 assists to his 18 points.

"He's very multi-dimensional," Donovan said. "He's a guy that I can play at a variety of positions. I was pleased that he went out there and tried to rebound. That was his focus. I don't care that it was against a team that we are more athletic then, but the fact that he went out there and tried to do the things that we asked him to do."

Calathes was right in the middle of both of the big Gator runs and also led the Gators with 33 minutes. Calathes shot 50 percent from the floor and also from behind the arc knocking down two of his four 3-point attempts.

"I just try to fill the stat sheet like Coach Donovan says," Calathes said. "I thought we came out and played hard and played tough. We tried to bring some energy onto the court and I think we did that."

Donovan used Calathes in a variety of roles, but he also used everyone at different positions. The substitutions weren't designed, however, but based on fatigue.

"We have had a problem in the first two weeks of trying to get them to understand how hard they need to play at this level to win," Donovan said. "I wanted to keep that as a focus for us tonight. I didn't want guys playing to keep themselves fresh, but to play to exhaustion. I thought they did that. There were a couple of guys that asked to be subbed, which tells me they were playing to fatigue."

The Gators started out a bit sluggish in the first half, scoring just 17 points in the game's first 10 minutes. At the 9:40 mark of the first half, Flagler trailed by just six points, but the Gators would eventually pick up the offense and rattle off 14 straight points. After missing their first five 3-points shots, UF hit 4-of-5, including two from Calathes to jump out to a 37-17 lead with 5:25 left in the half.

Florida maintained that 20-point margin, taking a 46-26 lead into the locker room. Speights led all scorers with 14 first half points.

The Gators used another big run in the second half behind some more 3-point shooting and an alley-oop from Calathes to Alex Tyus. Florida also ran off 10 straight points to extend an 87-50 lead to 97-50 in the game's final minutes.

After making just 7-of-13 free throws in the first half, the Gators knocked down 10-of-15 in the second half. They also out-shot Flagler 51.4 percent to 27.3 percent for the game.

Chandler Parsons joined Calathes, finishing with 18 points knocking down 3-of-5 from behind the arc. Tyus finished with 12, Jai Lucas finished with 11 and Adam Allen finished with 10 points. Sophomore Dan Werner didn't score, but passed out seven assists.

The Gators are back in action for the second and final exhibition game against Lynn on Monday night at the O'Connell Center with tip-off set for 7 p.m.

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