Gators Finish off Lynn, Exhibition Season

The Gators finished their exhibition schedule with a rousing 101-65 victory over Lynn University, but coach Billy Donovan came away less than impressed with his team's performance. A good deal of it stemmed from their lack of perimeter defense, allowing the Knights to shoot seven three-point shots in the first half.

"Forget about the score," said Donovan. "I've said for a long, long time that the most dangerous ingredient in our game of college basketball is the three-point line. We did as poor a job, in my opinion, as we could have done in the first half. Give [Lynn University] credit. They created some help situations and we did not rotate correctly at all."

Those sentiments were echoed by freshman point guard Jai Lucas.

"The first half might've been the worst half out of both games," Lucas said. "I think when Coach Donovan told us what we needed to do he fired us up a lot and in the second half we came out and played better defense and ran through our stuff better."

The Gators did indeed respond in the second half with a commitment to putting the three-pointers to a stop, holding the Knights scoreless from outside the arc on 0-for-5 shooting. While those adjustments were an encouraging sign for the future, it isn't lost on the players just how much this team will have to improve for the tougher opponents ahead.

"We have to get a lot better," Lucas said. "We gave up seven three-pointers in the first half to a Division II team. Going into the SEC playing teams like Tennessee with Chris Lofton and people like that, we have to get a lot better."

Offensively, the Gators were led again by sophomore center Marreese Speights with a game-high 18 points, eight boards and four blocks. He was highly efficient with his opportunities, making 7-of-9 shots from the field and was perfect from the line with four free throws.

The freshman class shined again with nearly all five players finishing in double digits scoring. Lucas and fellow frosh Nick Calathes each chipped in six assists while Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons brought down a combined 13 rebounds. Adam Allen was perfect from the field with 13 points in only 15 minutes of play time. Donovan once again showed an all-freshman lineup at several points in the game and it appears that the group is playing with a lot of energy.

Walter Hodge was his typical steady self, scoring 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting and playing feisty man defense with four steals.

Despite the Lynn Knights' lack of size, they brought a level of toughness and physicality that the Gators hadn't experienced in their previous test.

"They were a really tough team," Parsons said. "I think that was their goal to come in and try and bully us and play physical. We may not look it, but we're a tough team and we just got to keep working on the little things."

In addition to defensive lapses on the perimeter, Donovan expressed concern about the team's reluctance to take what the defense gave them and poor rebounding despite a significant height advantage.

"I think if a player is giving you everything he physically has and he's unable to physically get it done, then I don't know if you can call somebody soft," Donovan said. "For a guy like a Chandler Parsons, there are just some physical limitations because of youthfulness. There are some physical limitations with Alex Tyus because of youthfulness. I would expect and would hope that a guy like Jonathan Mitchell and Dan Werner can provide more for our team because they have the physical size and girth to be able to go do it."

The two sophomore forwards were again overshadowed by their freshman teammates. They combined for only eight points on 3-of-9 shooting, three rebounds and were tentative in their shot attempts. When asked about their confidence level, Donovan was unsure. But he was complimentary of some aspects of Werner's performance.

"I really don't know," Donovan said. "I think that like most young players, people have a tendency to value or look at themselves and how they shoot the ball in terms of giving a level of confidence. I've tried to give [Werner] confidence shooting the basketball. The best part of his game is he's a terrific passer from the power forward spot. Looking at the positive, he has 11 assists and one turnover. Which is absolutely remarkable. I guarantee you can probably go across the country and not find a power forward that after two exhibition games has got 11 assists and one turnover. I don't want him to feel pressured shooting the basketball and feel like he's got to make shots because that's not what we need him to do. I'm more concerned by the fact that he played 16 minutes and grabbed one rebound. That's more of an alarming statistic for me rather than the fact that he's 1-of-11 [shooting on the season.]"

This isn't something that Donovan hasn't seen many times before in his coaching tenure at the University of Florida. And Werner's struggles aren't something that hasn't been overcome by former Gator players. But according to Donovan, it's going to take special level of dedication and effort to make it happen.

"The game of basketball is a game of repetition," Donovan said. "The one thing I admired about a Joakim Noah or an Al Horford or a Mike Miller or Taurean Green: there was a relentless pursuit to figure it out. I can remember Mike Miller's freshman year we went up to Florida State and he didn't play particularly well. And I was walking outside the office over here in the O-Dome and I heard a ball bouncing at like 1 o'clock in the morning. I went up there and Mike Miller's up there in a dead sweat going up and down the floor. He said ‘I can't sleep I've got to figure this out. I've got to do this better."

"I think the biggest thing when you're dealing with guys like that," Donovan said, "A lot of it comes down to – what is the perseverance to want to figure it out? How important is it to you? How passionate are you about the game? I think that's what we'll find out about Dan."

The Gators play their regular season opener this upcoming Friday and will face what could be one of the tougher opponents that the Gators will play in the non-conference schedule in North Dakota State. The Bison have upset teams from major programs like Wisconsin and Marquette in recent years and should provide a great challenge for the Gators' young squad.

Questions or comments? Contact's Blake Bonsack

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