Speights leads Gators

When the Gators lined up for the tipoff of their second regular season game of the season, the Rowdy Reptiles student section filled the O-Dome with an echoing chant: "Marreese, Marreese, Marreese, Marreese, Marreese!"

It's been like that every game for Marreese Speights, the sophomore center who fans and coaches alike had great hopes for this season. Speights fed off the excitement early with six of the Gators' first eight points en route to a 93-65 victory over Tennessee Tech.

"They're on your side so it feels real good," Speights said. "They give me a lot of energy."

It was immediately apparent that Speights was playing with a lot more intensity in the second regular season game of the season, but it still wasn't enough to meet coach Billy Donovan's expectations. To Donovan, he's capable of doing so much more than he has.

"The unfortunate part sometimes with Marreese is that people are going to look down at the stat sheet and see he took 10 shots and he's 7-for-10 and he has 16 points," Donovan said. "I think the one thing with Marreese that everyone would agree is he's very, very talented catching the basketball and jump-hooking, and he can shoot jump shots. But that's not his issue. His issues are all the other things."

"I think he's played two exhibition games and two regular season games and he has yet to have an assist," Donovan said. "He's turning the ball over an enormous number of times. At 6-foot-11 and clearly the biggest and strongest guy on the floor with probably the most talent on the floor, he grabs three rebounds."

It was an interesting contrast to Dan Werner, a player Donovan has praised for his efforts despite his poor shooting so far this season.

"It's completely overblown because a guy like Werner, we're looking at him being 1-for-11 in two exhibition games and saying ‘What's wrong? What's the problem? What's this? What's that?' and you know what? Dan Werner's been as valuable and significant as any guy on our team helping us win because he does so many things that don't show up on the stat sheet," Donovan said.

The Gators had another successful game offensively with five players scoring in double-digits. Nick Calathes, Adam Allen and Chandler Parsons each had 15 points. Calathes and Parsons also had eight and six assists, respectively. Donovan was pleased with his team's chemistry and ball movement, especially for a young group of players that are still learning to play with one another.

"I love the unselfishness of our guys," Donovan said. "We've got a very, very unselfish group of guys that get a great deal of pleasure by passing and moving the ball. It's fun sitting over there, as a coach, and we're playing a different style offensively to try to take advantage of what these guys can do. But it's good to see them move and pass the ball the way they do."

Jai Lucas also added 13 points, an assist and two steals, while Alex Tyus had eight points, two blocks and grabbed four rebounds. So far it's been an encouraging sign to see the team shoot so well, but at the same time it concerns the coaches that the team might not know how to react in a game when the shots just aren't falling.

"How do we respond if we're not shooting it well?" Donovan said. "That's what I'm looking as right now is take the shooting out of the equation right now, take the three-point shots out of the equation. If we get against a team and we give up 18 offensive rebounds and we allow a team to shoot 43 percent, can we win a game like that? And we're going to have to find a way, too. We may not be able to do it this year, I don't know. Last two years' teams, we had the ability to overcome bad shooting games. I don't know yet if we can overcome a bad shooting game."

The Gators are back in action on Wednesday night against North Carolina Central University.


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