By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE — Round 3.
From Steve DeMeo's viewpoint, the 12-game Panhandle Conference slate can be broken down into three four-game rounds. Eight tilts down, the final round begins Saturday night in Pensacola.
DeMeo's top-ranked men are 8-0 following a 79-71 win this past Saturday in Tallahassee. With a 3 1/2-game cushion on second-place Chipola, the Raiders have already secured a winning record against every Panhandle foe and can shore up their fourth straight league crown with one more win.
And, oh yeah, did we mention they're 25-0?
Bart Walker's women, meanwhile, are 6-2 following Saturday's 62-56 victory over the Eagles, who have fallen 2 1/2 games back of the Raiders. NWF State (21-2) trails first-place Gulf Coast State (18-2, 6-1) by a 1/2 game, although the Commodores own the tiebreaker with a 2-0 record against the Raiders.
Both NWF State programs enter Saturday's road trip a perfect 2-0 against Pensacola State.
The fourth-ranked women needed overtime in a 78-74 road win over the Pirates on Jan. 6, but cruised to a 60-49 victory on Jan. 27 at The Arena.
The No. 1 men beat the Pirates 74-64 on the road and later 79-46 at The Arena.
Saturday's Panhandle Conference Doubleheader
NWF State at Pensacola State, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m.
While DeMeo's crew has been tested over its last two conference games in six- and eight-point wins, they enter Saturday night outscoring league foes by an 88-69 average margin. Six of the wins have come by double digits as the Raiders have stretched their conference regular-season win streak to 23 games.
Depth has been the center of it all.
Sophomore guard Andres Feliz has all but shored up Panhandle Player of the Year honors with 21 points a night on 61-percent shooting to accent five rebounds and five assists per game in league play.
Tray Boyd III follows with 15 points a night on 3.4 3s per game, and freshman sixth man Chris Duarte contributes 12.4 points (59-percent shooting) and a team-best eight rebounds per game.
Freshman forward Derek Funderburk, recently named the fourth-best prospect in NJCAA, adds 12 points (56 percent) and five rebounds per game, while sophomores Kelvin Robinson and Karim Ezzeddine each average eight points a night.
Collectively, the Raiders are shooting 53 percent from the floor, 44 percent from beyond the arc and 76 percent from the charity stripe.
Walker's crew, meanwhile, continues to find a way to win against teams not named Gulf Coast State.
The latest triumph against seventh-ranked Tallahassee (18-4, 3-4) featured much of the same: A suffocating defensive effort. The Raiders forced 26 turnovers, held a 33-15 edge on the glass and limited the Eagles to 43-percent shooting and just four 3-pointers.
On the season the Raiders are holding conference foes to 57 points per game and all opponents to 44 points per game. Conference foes are shooting just 36 percent from the floor and 26 percent from beyond the arc while being forced into 20 turnovers a night.
While the turnover rate needs work along with the outside shot, the Raiders have been making inroads recently with its offense. After following up a 50-percent shooting effort against Pensacola State with a conference-best 44-point first half against Chipola, the Raiders shot 48 percent against Tallahassee, delivered 16 assists and jumped out to a 22-10 first-quarter lead.
Jade Lewis and Trinity Baptiste each had 13 points, Georgia Gayle delivered 11 points and Ann Jernigan chipped in nine points, seven assists and four rebounds in the win.
The Pensacola State women (17-6, 1-6) enter Saturday's tilt ranked 16th in the country.