By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE — Never will Steve DeMeo complain about a 10-point road win in the Panhandle Conference.
Yet the NWF State men's basketball coach admits that, despite 27 points from sophomore point guard Andres Feliz and a dominant first-half defensive effort Saturday night, the top-ranked Raiders (18-0) didn't bring their A-game in a 74-64 win at Pensacola State.
"We didn't play our best, but we battled through," DeMeo said. "A lot of our guys don't understand quite yet that we're going to get everyone's best shot. The effort was great Saturday night, but we just gotta be a bit more focused on our responsibilities like rebounding in the right spots, limiting turnovers and not getting into foul trouble.
"We do have high expectations for our guys and I do think we should play better, but anytime you can win by double digits on the road in the Panhandle, you gotta be happy."
For a program that's won three straight Panhandle titles, getting everyone's best shot is par for the course.
Pensacola State (11-7) entered with 11 wins in their last 13 games. Gulf Coast State, Wednesday night's opponent entering The Arena for a 7:30 p.m. tip, is 13-4 after beginning conference play with a 91-73 loss to Tallahassee.
DeMeo called 6-5 sophomore Will Robinson "probably one of the best players in the league" and 6-6 sophomore Marlon Adams a "dynamic scorer." Then there's 6-3 sophomore Tyree Gibson and 6-8 sophomore Quadree Smith, each of whom are prone to go off at any point.
"They have four or five guys that can hit you on any given night," DeMeo said. "They're more guard-oriented and can create off the dribble. And Robinson and Adams are one the most gritty, talented backcourts in the country."
On paper, though, few teams stack up with the Raiders.
The top ranked team in the country is outscoring foes 92-72 on the season. Offensively, the Raiders are shooting a blistering 54 percent from the floor and 40 percent from beyond the arc for 9.1 3-pointers a night.
Feliz leads the Raiders with 19 points per game on 62 percent shooting. He's also dishing out a team-best 6.6 assists a night and averaging 5.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals.
Tray Boyd III, one of the most prolific 3-pointer shooters in college with 3.3 treys a night on a 49.2-percent clip, is averaging 15.1 points. Sixth man Chris Duarte follows with 13.3 points per game on 55 percent shooting to go with 6.9 rebounds a night, while Derek Funderburk averages 11 points on 52 percent shooting. Kelvin Robinson averages 10 points a night on 52.1 percent shooting.
But the Raiders aren't a one-trick pony. They play defense, too.
DeMeo's crew forced 21 turnovers in Saturday night's win and held the Pirates to 39 percent shooting and a 4-for-17 clip from 3 en route to allowing just 17 first-half points. On the season they're forcing foes into 40 percent shooting and 16 turnovers a night.
"The guys have really come together and bought into our philosophy, but we still have a long ways to go," DeMeo said.