By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE — Every game, Steve DeMeo has three goals.
Play solid transition defense. Win the rebounding battle. Get to the free throw line.
Do these three things, and more times than not a win is likely.
Against Eastern Florida State (11-4) on Saturday, the No. 1-ranked Raiders (12-1) whiffed on all three.
They were outscored 47-34 in the second half, outrebounded 50-25 and mustered only 13 made free throws in an 87-73 loss in Ocala.
After an 11-0 start to the season, it was NWF State's first taste of adversity. Injuries and exhaustion, DeMeo said, played a factor.
"This is a good learning experience for everyone – me, our coaching staff, the players," DeMeo said. "Eastern beat us and they played well and we didn't. The Ludgy (Debaut) injury caught up to us and our kids were just exhausted after all the travel.
"But that's why we set up this schedule, to test us."
On Sunday a humbled NWF State delivered a telling response, bouncing back with a 69-65 victory over fifth-ranked Florida Southwestern State (11-1).
Now the Raiders will get a much-needed break, their next matchup coming Dec. 29 against Gordon State at Gulf Coast State in Panama City.
"For the next 16 days I'm going to watch more tape and find out where we need to improve," DeMeo said. "We have to tighten some things and I have to tighten some things up myself.
"We can't afford to get complacent or settle on our talent. We have some things we need to improve."
After hitting the century mark in six of the first nine games, the Raiders are averaging just 82.3 points since. To be fair, the Raiders' season-opening pace – 104 points per game and 56 percent shooting – was unsustainable. An injury to starting center Debaut – out till mid-January with a stress fracture in his foot – hasn't helped.
Even so, the Raiders are outscoring foes 96-80 a night on 54 percent shooting, nine 3-pointers a night, a 79-percent clip from the charity stripe and 18 assists per game.
Chris Duarte leads the Raiders with 20.5 points a night to accent 7.3 rebounds a game, followed by Javion Hamlet with 18 points and 6.1 assists a night, Eric Vila with 10.4 points, Noah Morgan with 9.5 points and Tyrie Jackson with 8.8 points.