Parsons spurs easy win for Gators

When Chandler Parsons arrived at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, scoring was the last thing on his mind. He wanted to rebound better than he had in Florida’s first two games and he wanted to build on that six-assist game he turned in Sunday against Tennessee Tech. He set new personal highs for rebounds (8) and assists (7) against North Carolina Central Wednesday and on a night when he wasn’t even thinking about points, he popped in 22 to lead the Gators to a 105-51 win in the third game of the Blue Ribbon Challenge.

Parsons did plenty of damage from the three-point stripe, hitting 4-6 from long range and he was 8-10 overall from the field. He even pitched in on the defensive end with a pair of steals.

“Coach has been getting on me about getting rebounds and getting my team involved so I thought I could distribute more and contribute more than just scoring,” said Parsons, the 6-9 freshman from Lake Howell who has the silky smooth long range jumper.

“Chandler played great offensively,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan. “He really had it going. He played 18 minutes and was on course for a triple double. He was the one guy that opened up the game offensively from behind the three-point line for us by knocking down some threes.

“He really made some great passes. For a guy that’s 6-9 or 6-10 and to have seven assists and two turnovers … I’m sure the coach at Lake Howell, Coach (Steve) Kohn would be very happy with two of his players to have 15 assists and four turnovers.”

Nick Calathes, who teamed with Parsons last year to lead Lake Howell to the state 5A championship, scored 16 points and handed out eight assists.

Parsons did his damage off the bench, checking in for the first time at the 5:43 mark with the Gators leading 13-9. He made his presence known quickly, draining a three-pointer from the wing for his first points of the night. He grabbed a rebound, made the perfect pass to Walter Hodge for a jumper and then found Calathes on the right wing for an open three-pointer. All that was in Parsons’ first five minutes on the floor and it spurred the Gators to an 8-0 run, the first of three big first half scoring runs that put away the visiting Eagles. The Gators had another 8-0 scoring run in them and they expanded their lead to 31 points over a six minute stretch late in the first half when they scored 14 straight points.

Parsons’ first three-pointer was almost like a signal for the carnage to begin. North Carolina Central was a Division II team playing in the CIAA last year. They’re considered a Division I transition team now, playing a year against whoever will schedule them while they wait a chance to join the Mid-East Athletic Conference. Florida’s 54-point massacre was the third the Eagles have endured in less than a week. Duke nailed them by 73 in the season opener, and Monday night, in their first game of the Blue Ribbon Challenge, Rutgers took an easy 25-point win.

Sophomore center Marreese Speights, whose line score read 19 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots, said the Gators didn’t pay attention to what happened in North Carolina Central’s first two games. He said the Gators treated the Eagles the same as they would have treated a ranked team.

“No matter what team you play against you have to play hard,” said Speights, who hit 9-10 from the field. “We went out there and played hard and accomplished what we wanted to accomplish.”

Speights’ performance was encouraging for Donovan. The 6-11, 245-pound sophomore scored 16 points in Sunday’s win over Tennessee Tech, but he pulled down just three rebounds. Donovan challenged the big guy to get more active on the boards and to play harder on the defensive end.

“I didn’t even recognize his points tonight,” said Donovan. “What stood out to me was the way he chased the ball on the backboard, the way he went after it and the way he helped his teammates blocking shots, rotating and getting over there. He didn’t play a lot of minutes tonight but the minutes he did play, he made an impact on things outside of scoring which was good to see.”

It was 57-25 at the half and Billy Donovan knew that the visiting Eagles weren’t going to provide much more opposition in the second half than they had already shown, so he challenged the Gators with four achievable goals. He wanted the Gators to play hard and make progress in the second half.

“We talked about keeping our turnover total below 14,” said Donovan. “Then we talked in great detail, let’s try to get 30 assists. I thought that was a reasonable number because we had 18 in the first half. Then I talked about trying to hold them to 45 points and the other thing I talked about was the field goal percentage because I think we’re giving up a little bit too high a field goal percentage right now. We’re right now as a team right around 42 or 43 percent and they came in at the half at 43 percent. When the game’s over with, we need to look at the field goal percentage being below 40.”

The Gators finished with only 11 turnovers. They had 29 assists and gave up 26 points that allowed the Eagles to crack the 50-point barrier. The Gators held the Eagles to 8-25 shooting in the second half (32 percent) and that brought North Carolina Central down to 37.5 percent (18-48) for the game.

“Two out of those four things we did well,” said Donovan. “We were an assist shy of getting 30 and we obviously, talking about giving up 45 points, we gave up six more points than we would like to. I think those are the things that when you have a game that you’re in control, you get upset as a coach. You turn it over too much; you don’t defend like you’re supposed to; you maybe become a little selfish — guys try to get their points … those are the things that I think can sometimes filter in. I thought they did a good job of taking on the challenge and at least keeping a level of focus on those four things.”

The Gators shot a sizzling 65.7 percent (23-35) in the first half and they cooled off a little bit in the second half when Donovan was running subs in and out including his three walk-ons, Hudson Fricke, Shane Payne and Michael Weisenberg. The Gators went 18-38 from the field (47.4 percent) but they still finished the game at 56.2 percent.

The Gators out-rebounded North Carolina Central 48-22 after pounding the boards for a 20-6 margin at the half.

Florida’s Fab Five freshmen contributed 64 points, 20 rebounds, 19 assists, two blocked shots and four steals. Freshman Alex Tyus joined Parsons, Speights and Calathes in double figures with 13 points, his career high. Freshman Adam Allen had seven points, hitting his only three-pointer try of the night, and Jai Lucas had six points to go with three assists and a steal.

Sophomore Dan Werner scored five points, grabbed three rebounds and passed for five assists. Junior Walter Hodge scored nine points, grabbed four rebounds and passed for two assists and sophomore Jonathon Mitchell scored his first six points of the season.

Donovan was happy to get some contributions out of Mitchell. Donovan is hoping that the 6-7 sophomore will take on the role of the lock down perimeter defender for the Gators.

“If he could evolve into that kind of a guy for us and not worry about points, but worry about being a tough, hard nosed competitor and defender and find ways to shut people down,” said Donovan. “I think he had that kind of ability. He’s really good in terms of his technique and focus and I hope he can develop into that. There’s a level of mindset that you got to take on as a player to want to absorb that kind of role.”

The win was Florida’s 13th straight, dating back to Senior Day at the O-Dome last year. It was also win 299 in Billy Donovan’s career. The Gators will have a chance to get Donovan win number 300 Saturday evening when they face Rutgers of the Big East Conference in their final game of the Blue Ribbon Challenge.

“The most talented team up to this time that we’re playing is Rutgers on Saturday,” said Donovan. “I’ve had a chance to see them play twice just because I watched the game against Tennessee Tech and I watched the game against North Carolina Central. That’s going to be quite a challenge for us.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.