NICEVILLE - "Defense," NWF State women's basketball head coach Tamela McCorvey said Tuesday after the release of the NJCAA and Region 8 rankings, "wins games."
Defense guided the Raiders to a No. 4 ranking in Region 8 - trailing only Gulf Coast State, Chipola and Tallahassee.
Defense guided the Raiders to a No. 14 national ranking, one of just five Panhandle Conference teams to crack the top 17.
And defense, despite nearly surrendering a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, was again the theme Wednesday night in a 53-51 win over 15th-ranked Walters State (9-3) at The Arena.
Taking charges, forcing three-second violations and not allowing the Walters State to develop of an inside scoring presence despite a 47-27 rebounding advantage, the Raiders (10-2) forced the Senators into 21 turnovers, a 31-percent shooting clip from the floor and a 2-for-13 effort from beyond the arc.
That proved more than plenty for the Jade Lewis show on the offensive end.
Lewis, a 6-foot forward from Jacksonville, was the only Raider in double figures with 18 points. She buried four 3-pointers and scored all 18 in the first three quarters to help build a 45-30 Raiders lead.
But the Raiders, missing Britney Snowden due to an MCL injury, faltered over the final 10 minutes of plays, shooting just 2 for 11 from the floor, missing all three treys and continuing their struggles to penetrate the lane and get easy buckets inside.
Walters State cut the lead to 53-50 with nine seconds later after blocking a Lewis 3-pointer, but the Raiders smartly fouled Anesha Harmon with a little more than four seconds remaining.
Harmon missed the first free throw and made the second to cut the lead to two, but NWF State easily ran out the clock for the win.
"We can't give up a 15-point lead," McCorvey said. "We got to learn how to close out games better than that."
A glaring number that jumped out on the stat sheet to McCorvey was the Senators' 21-33 effort from the charity stripe compared to NWF State's 13-22 mark.
"We got to stop putting people on the free throw line," McCorvey said. "A lot of their points are coming on the free throw line so we got to do a better job of not fouling."
The face of the offensive struggles was 6-foot-3 Nasheema Oliver, who missed all eight shots and seemed to embody a Raiders team that didn't want to run Wednesday night.
"We're not putting people on their heels," McCorvey said. "That's why I say we have to do a better job in transition. Once we start attacking the rim and stop settling for jump shots, we'll be a way better team."
Amber Thompson added five rebounds, five assists and five rebounds and Juanisha Young chipped in nine points and four rebounds for the Raiders, who beat the Senators 65-42 on Nov. 25 on a neutral court. The Senators followed with wins of 30, 38, 48 and 39 points for a four-game win streak headed into The Arena, but NWF State's defense once again held them in check.