By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE – Steve DeMeo walked around the Destin Whole Foods Market, the NWF State men's basketball coach easily recognizable in his Raiders white T-shirt.
DeMeo was just doing a little light shopping before his trip to Pensacola, where he would scout Tallahassee's 89-70 road win over the Pirates.
"Just part of the business," said DeMeo, whose 18-2, sixth-ranked crew was enjoying a rare off-weekend after a 4-0 start to Panhandle Conference play.
He's right. To maintain their stranglehold at the top of the Panhandle, which they lead by a game over Chipola (20-2, 3-1), two games over Tallahassee (18-3, 2-2), three games over Pensacola State (13-8, 1-3) and four games over Gulf Coast State (12-9, 0-4), there's never a night or weekend off.
Especially not when you're the four-time defending Panhandle champions.
Through one-third of Panhandle play, the Raiders are outscoring foes 85-74. They beat Pensacola State by 15, Gulf Coast State by 13, Chipola by 11 and most recently Tallahassee by four.
The Raiders begin Round 2 of Panhandle play tonight in Pensacola State for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.
So what's been working well for the Raiders in Panhandle play? Try everything.
The Raiders are shooting a blistering 51 percent from the floor and 37 percent from beyond the arc with 10 treys a night.
In Panhandle play, Chris Duarte leads the Raiders with 18 points a game to accent 6.3 rebounds. Javion Hamlet, a nightly triple-double threat, follows with 17.3 points (60 percent shooting), eight assists and five rebounds.
Eric Vila is averaging a double-double with 14.5 points (61 percent shooting) and 10.3 rebounds, while Kayne Henry (54 percent shooting) and Noah Morgan (61 percent shooting) are also averaging a shade more than 10 points per game.
Then you have Tyrie Jackson posting 8.3 points a night for an offense that has yet to be held below 75 points in any Panhandle contest.
Defensively the Raiders are looking equally prolific.
Opponents are shooting just 42 percent from the floor and 29 percent from beyond the arc and no foe has topped 84 points.