Speights, Gators rout Rutgers

Published: Saturday, November 17, 2007 at 8:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 17, 2007 at 8:51 p.m.

Florida coach Billy Donovan did not have an elaborate celebration planned for his 300th career win.

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Marreese Speights goes for a layup in the first half of the Gators' game against Rutgers on Saturday.

Tim Hussin/ Special to the Sun

"I'll probably go home, watch some film and get ready for North Florida," Donovan said.

Career win number 300 was satisfying for Donovan because it continued a surprising strong start to the Florida season. With center Marreese Speights leading five-players in double-figures with 18 points, the Gators rode the momentum of a late first-half charge to beat Rutgers 88-63 before an announced 11,522 at the O'Connell Center.

Florida (4-0) swept its four opponents in the Blue Ribbon Challenge, winning the four games by an average of 29.3 points.

"We are still a team that can do a lot better because of our youthfulness," Donovan said. "But as the day goes and the night goes, I was proud of them. They have a competitive spirit and they compete and play and give us everything they have."

Speights (18 points, 12 rebounds) and sophomore forward Dan Werner (10 points, 10 rebounds) each posted their first career double-doubles. Florida passed its first test against a physical frontline, outrebounding the Scarlet Knights 43-28. The Gators scored 18 second-chance points off 16 offensive rebounds.

"We knew they were a big, physical team," Werner said. "Tonight, we had bodies on bodies. Everyone contributed. I may have had some rebounds, but there were a lot of other guys who blocked out who gave me the chance."

The perimeter contributions came from guards Jai Lucas and Walter Hodge. Hodge (14 points) made four of his five 3-point attempts and Lucas (15 points, five assists) made his first three 3-point attempts of the season.

Lucas said he spent some extra time with assistant coach Rob Lanier in the gym working on his shot.

"My shot has been really struggling," Lucas said. "This gives me a little bit of confidence. If it's open, I'll look for it a little more."

For the most part, Florida did a good job of containing Rutgers junior forward JR Inman, who finished with a quiet team-high 17 points. Inman scored eight straight points on consecutive 3-pointers and an inside layup that tied the score at 31.

From there, Florida closed the half with a 17-2 run, fueled by some inside baskets from Speights and the outside shooting of Hodge and Lucas.

Freshman forward Chandler Parsons (seven points) put back a Werner miss for a basket and Hodge followed with a 3-pointer. Another inside basket from Parsons extended the Florida lead to 38-31.

Rutgers guard Anthony Farmer cut the lead to 38-33 with a bank-shot, but Florida closed the half with a flurry of baskets. Lucas found Speights on a pretty alley-oop dunk, then found Speights again underneath the basket to extend the lead to 42-33.

"It was an up-and-down game and then we were able to get some stops," Donovan said.

Lucas followed with a 3-pointer to put Florida ahead 45-22. After an Inman miss, Florida found Hodge open in the right corner in transition. Hodge sank the open 3-pointer with 27.3 left to put Florida up 48-33 and send the O-Dome crowd into a frenzy.

"Coach had been getting on us to close out the half better," Lucas said. "I think tonight it's something that we really concentrated on."

"In the last four minutes, we ran out of a little gas," Rutgers coach Fred Hill said.

Donovan remained self-effacing about the milestone, deflecting the credit to the previous players and coaches he's worked with. In his 12th season at Florida, he's led Florida to two national titles and three Final Fours.

"I'm just so happy for him," Florida associate coach Larry Shyatt said. "Having been part of a small slice of it, four years working with him, you see how hard he works and the passion he has for the game. He'll be the first to deflect the credit, but he's very deserving of it."

Free throws

Florida made 11 3-pointers Saturday night, a season high ... The Gators will play at Rutgers in 2009 as part of a home-and-home scheduling deal with the school.

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