Speights' Big Night Leads Gators

The Florida Gators got more than they bargained for from the High Point Panthers, but were able to cap off the non-conference schedule with their 13th win of the season. It took a big night from Marreese Speights who finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds to lead Florida to the 88-70 win at the O'Connell Center.

Speights had his second straight game with 20 or more points and nearly reached his previous career high in the first 20 minutes with 18 first half points. Speights has been knocked for his lack of physical conditioning, but he played a career high 31 minutes against High Point.

"He played great," Alex Tyus said. "He's a fantastic basketball player. I'm just glad that we won and Marreese did what he did to help us win.

"I was really pleased with him the last couple of games," head coach Billy Donovan said. "To press, we have to practice like that and what I've noticed is when he gets tired everything shuts down on him. When he gets tired in practice, we can make a point to him that this is the critical time. I'm hopeful he can go through this experience and learn that the key to his whole game is conditioning. He's getting better in that area and it's paying dividends."

But Speights wasn't the only Gator to have a big night. Nick Calathes also netted 15 points despite a poor shooting night from behind the arc (1-of-4). And coming off the bench, Jonathan Mitchell had another big game, scoring 12 points and making 5-of-6 shots. His only miss came on a forced 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring.

"The game is just coming to me," Mithcell said. "I'm letting it go and it's going in for me. It's a good rhythm and I'm at a good spot. It's a good place to be."

"He made two shots against Ohio State and it totally changed him for whatever reason," Donovan said. "We've seen guys make some shots and get on a roll, but what I liked today was his defense and his intensity level on both ends."

The Gators led 6-5 at the 16:00 mark of the first half when Walter Hodge knocked down a 3-pointer, beginning a Gator run. Florida rattled off eight unanswered points, jumping out to a 10-point edge. They would later extend the lead to 15, 31-16, with seven minutes to play in the first half. High Point had trouble handling Florida's full court defense and couldn't match the Gators on the boards.

Florida was also able to shut down Arizona Reid in the early minutes. The Panthers' leading scorer who averages 24 points a game missed his first three shots before knocking down a 3-pointer midway through the first half. He had 11 points before the break and finished with 22.

Although the Gator defensive pressure was able to hold High Point, Donovan felt like the Gators lacked some effort after a solid game against Temple over the weekend.

"We did not have the same energy that we need to play with," he said. "I thought we looked fatigued at times. I don't think it's a lack of effort, but for whatever reason, we did not have that same energy level. We were able to get some stops that enabled us to take on the run that they had to start the second half."

Florida took a 16-point lead into the locker room, but the Panthers narrowed the margin to just seven points in the second half. A 23-11 run by the Panthers that was assisted by an intentional foul called on Dan Werner kept the Panthers in the game.

But size, speed and Speights proved to be too much for High Point. A Speights dunk followed by a nice reverse lay in and a couple of buckets by Mitchell put the Gators back up by 17, 75-58, with eight minutes left in the game. The comeback by High Point may help the Gators heading into the conference schedule.

"You want to see your team respond," Donovan said. "Those are experiences that I can't create in practice. Making a stop or a team making a run at you, those are things you can't prepare for."

The Gators finish the non-conference portion of their schedule 13-2 and 10-1 at home. But they'll hit the road for their first SEC test when they face Alabama next Tuesday.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski

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