Gators snap losing streak with 73-49 win over Aztecs in NIT
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Maybe Florida coach Billy Donovan will let his players back in their practice facility now.
Marreese Speights scored 18 points, Nick Calathes added 16 points, five rebounds and five assists, and the Gators snapped a four-game losing streak with a 73-49 victory over San Diego State in the first round of the NIT on Wednesday night.
The second-seeded Gators (22-11) made the most of their size advantage inside, hit seven 3-pointers and won for the first time in three weeks. They advanced to play Creighton in the second round Friday.
Ryan Amoroso led the Aztecs (20-13) with 19 points and seven rebounds. Leading scorer Lorrenzo Wade added 11 points and seven assists.
Florida lost eight of its previous 11 games and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years. Donovan responded by kicking his players out of the team’s $12 million practice facility and banning them from wearing any Florida attire.
Of course, the Gators got to wear their uniforms Wednesday—the first time any of them donned orange and blue in a week.
Feeling like his players had a sense of complacency and entitlement, Donovan hoped the punishment would serve as a wake-up call for a group he has criticized for not having enough dedication, passion to win and willingness to play defense.
His motivational tactic might have worked.
Florida jumped out front early, opened up a double-digit lead before halftime and cruised to its 19th win in its last 20 postseason games.
The two-time reigning national champions had won 18 in a row before losing to Alabama in the first round the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The Gators were ahead 35-23 at the break, then used a bevy of easy baskets in the paint to stretch it to 59-36 midway through the second half.
Speights, who had several inches on the competition, had three consecutive baskets during an 8-0 run that put Florida ahead 71-46 with 2:37 remaining. That sent most of the half-capacity crowd heading to the exits.
The Aztecs fell to 2-5 in postseason play under coach Steve Fisher.
The Gators made their first three 3-pointers and were up 22-12 midway through the first half. San Diego State cut it to 24-18 a few minutes later, but Florida quickly turned it back into a double-digit lead before halftime.
Calathes hit consecutive 3s, the second of which put the Gators up 34-21. Calathes missed a running one-hander at the buzzer, but his team was still ahead 35-23 at the break—thanks mostly to a 22-11 rebounding advantage.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, in town to meet with some of Florida’s draft-eligible players, sat next to football coach Urban Meyer for the game.
Fans in the student section tried to taunt Belichick with chants of “18 and 1” and “New York Giants.” He didn’t seem to notice.
Former Donovan assistant Donnie Jones, now the head coach at Marshall, also sat behind Florida’s bench. He sat next to former player Brett Nelson.