By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE – As the regular season loomed earlier this month, Steve DeMeo said he had never seen a team so deep and versatile in his six season at NWF State.
This past weekend at Pensacola State College affirmed that praise.
Down starting center Ludgy Debaut and guard Kayne Henry, the Raiders held on for a 92-89 overtime win over 15th-ranked Trinity Valley on Friday and then defeated Miami Dade 117-102 on Saturday to remain undefeated.
Validating the hype of a preseason No. 1 national ranking, the Raiders are now 9-0 and outscoring foes by an average margin of 104-81.
Yet their first taste of adversity nearly resulted in a loss, the Raiders trailing Trinity Valley by 10 with around five minutes to play Friday night. But, as the Raiders are prone to do, they figured it out.
Javion Hamlet delivered 23 points and 10 assists, Chris Duarte had 22 points and seven rebounds and Noah Morgan delivered 19 points for the Raiders, who later outscored the Cardinals 13-10 in the extra frame.
"As much as you think you're deep, you don't realize where you're at until you have to deal with injuries and things don't run as smooth," DeMeo said. "The important thing is we battled back and the other guys took advantage of their opportunities and came through."
Debaut, a 6-foot-11 sophomore, is out for at least three weeks with a stress fracture in his foot. Kayne twisted his ankle this past Thursday.
"Ludgy covers a lot of weakness with defending and rebounding and Kayne is one of our best defenders," DeMeo said. "With those guys out, the roles had to change a bit. That was a challenge.
Texas A&M transfer Eric Vila slotted into the center role with 20 points and 18 boards in the pair of wins, while newly-minted starter Morgan averaged 18.5 points over the weekend.
"We went smaller and those guys stepped up and played well," DeMeo said. "I was really impressed with Noah Morgan and Eric Vila, although his frame isn't quite built for that, did a lot of good things."
The depth has extended to the season box score, which paints the picture of a prolific, up-tempo offense that can live above the rim and stroke the 3.
To wit: against Miami Dade the Raiders had 20 dunks, six which came from Tyrie Jackson en route to a game-high 23 points. Meanwhile the Raiders are averaging just shy of 10 treys a night on a 39-percent clip.
From the floor the Raiders are shooting 57 percent en route to averaging 104 points a game. They're also excelling at the charity stripe with a 79-percent shooting clip.
Duarte, bound for Oregon, leads the team with 21.4 points a night on 60 percent shooting to accent 7.3 rebounds per game. Hamlet follows with 18.7 points on a 68-percent blazing clip to accent 7.3 assists.
"At 9-0 I think we're taking steps in the right direction," DeMeo said. "I feel like we have chemistry and everyone likes each other and is player for each other.
"Everyone understands their role and their importance."
Defensively, DeMeo has few complaints for the Raiders. He'd just like to see his team "tighten up the defensive rebounding" a bit.
Now the Raiders head to the Indian Hill Classic in Iowa, where they'll tip off against State Fair Friday night at 5 and 12th-ranked Indian Hills on Saturday night at 7.
"Indian Hills is one of the best in the country, so it'll be another test," DeMeo said. "But that's the way we designed the schedule, to play against good opponents so we can be ready for our league and the state tourney and hopefully the national tournament."