Gator Backcourt Leads the Way

The talk all week has been that the Gators' season opener against North Dakota State would be quite the challenge. And with major programs like Michigan State, Ohio State and Kentucky falling to underdogs in recent weeks, there was certainly cause for trepidation.

When the Bison jumped out to a 7-0 lead to begin the game, it appeared the Gators could be in for an upset of their own. But ultimately, the Gators prevailed with a 75-65 win. The game also provided numerous learning experiences for a young team that is still figuring out how to react to both prosperity and adversity.

"This was really great for our team because we ended up creating and having to deal with a lot of different situations throughout the course of the 40 minutes," coach Billy Donovan said.

"We got off to a slow start. We were shell shocked when they jumped on us right away but we kept our composure and got the lead. We got by maybe 17 or 18 and then had some poor possessions on offense, some rebounds that didn't go our way. I thought [NDSU] put their intensity level into a different gear. They appeared to be the aggressor and all of a sudden chopped it down to 10. It's great for our guys to be in some of those situations, having to grind, fight and battle to win a game. I'm proud of the way our guys played."

The Gators were led offensively by Nick Calathes with 21 points and three assists. It seemed like whenever the Bison began to make a run, the versatile freshman was able to answer with a driving basket to keep them at a distance.

"I came out and played how I wanted to play," Calathes said. "My teammates got me open. The high screen and rolls really helped. They didn't step out, so I just took it all the way in or pulled up for a shot."

Calathes was joined on the stat sheet by Jai Lucas, who started the season opener at the point guard position. Lucas had eight points and four rebounds. Chandler Parsons, Adam Allen and Alex Tyus were also impressive in limited minutes.

After the Gators' exhibition game again Lynn, Donovan stressed the importance of defending the three-point line. While the Bison were able to make some shots, the Gators held them to making less than a third of their attempts.

"You're going to give up a few," Lucas said. "I think we did an okay job. They still hit some shots but at least we were there contesting them. They were tough threes so you really can't complain."

Walter Hodge also had a successful evening with 15 points and three assists of his own. The junior showed some veteran savvy, scoring six of the Gators' last eight points and stealing a Bison inbound pass to seal the victory.

Despite Marreese Speights' 10 points and eight rebounds, Donovan said that this was an opportunity for the sophomore center to do more.

"I thought Marreese, to be quite honest, could've really dominated the glass a lot more," Donovan said. "There were a lot of rebounds that he didn't block out correctly and guys moved him out of the way."

The other Gator sophomores still have yet to perform up to the large expectations put on them before the season. Jonathan Mitchell only played four minutes and had an empty stat sheet. Dan Werner still hasn't found his groove offensively, but otherwise had a solid effort with seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. Werner added a degree of toughness inside that was badly needed with Speights playing so few minutes, and Donovan praised him for that.

"He made some plays that didn't show up in the stat sheet," Donovan said. "He really honed in tonight defensively where he made the biggest impact for our team tonight. He really bailed out our young guys so many times where our young guys were out of position. We got away with a couple situations because of his understanding and his savvy."

The team will now have to make a quick turnaround to prepare themselves for another game only two days from now against Tennessee Tech.

Fightin Gators Top Stories