— By David Walsh
The Florida Gators needed a strong second-half effort to defeat Marshall, 73-67, Friday night in front of 10,583 at Exactech Arena/O’Connell Center.
The Gators, ranked No. 24 nationally, went into the half down 33-25 and were 0-for-10 from three-point range and had zero assists. The Southeastern Conference member enjoyed a much better final 20 minutes after a spirited halftime talk by coach Mike White and won their fourth straight game.
Marshall missed its first 10 shots from the floor. Iran Bennett made 1-of-2 free throws at the 15:00 mark for the team’s first point.
Jannson Williams connected for the Herd’s first basket, a three-pointer with 13:15 left in the half. The Conference USA member went up 30-23 when Mikel Beyers drove the lane and slammed the ball home. However, he got a technical foul after the basket and Ques Glover connected on two free throws.
Noah Locke connected on Florida’s first three-point shot with 13:33 to play at give the Gators the lead for good at 42-39. They nearly gave the 13-point lead and game away in the final minutes.
Florida (6-2) had an 11-point lead with a little more than 2 minutes to play, but Marshall (2-4) hit a three-pointer, scored off a turnover and converted a three-point play to help make it a two-point game, 69-67. Andrew Nembhard stopped the rally with a floater with 20 seconds left.
After a block by Dontay Bassett, Locke nailed two free throws to ice the game.
Ques Glover led Florida with a career-best 14 points and Keyontae Johnson added 13. Heralded graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. finished with 10 and spent most of the evening in foul trouble. The Gators had four threes and four assists in the second half.
“We’re still learning how to play at different speeds,” White said in a SEC Network television interview after the game. “Marshall had a lot to do with that tonight. We’ve got nine new guys and we played like that. We’ve got to score more efficiently. We’re feeling better about ourselves.”
As for the turnover-assist ratio, White said: “Four assists, 14 turnovers. We’ve got to improve that.”
Bennett led the Herd with 16 points. Williams added 15 with four treys. Taevion Kinsey followed with 14.
Marshall’s next game is Wednesday against Akron at Cam Henderson Center. Tip is 7 p.m.
Under White, the Gators are 2-0 against C-USA teams.
Blackshear fouled out late and got a technical foul when whistled for No. 5 with 1:33 to play.