By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE – OK, NWF State, we get it. You own the Panhandle Conference.
As if four straight league titles didn't signify that, the Raiders – ranked sixth nationally and second in Region 8 – have doubled down with a 6-0 start to conference play.
And, frankly, the 14.2-point average margin of victory (83.5-69.3) may not even capture the true measure of that dominance.
Saturday's 81-58 drubbing of Gulf Coast State at The Arena reinforced that, the fifth win by double digits in conference play.
Yet the Raiders' conference cushion isn't iron-clad. Chipola (21-2, 4-1), which hosts NWF State (20-2, 6-0) tonight for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff and is ranked eighth nationally and third in the state, trails the Raiders by just 1 ½ games.
Tallahassee (19-4, 3-3) is three games back, followed by Pensacola State (13-9, 1-4) 4 ½ games back and Gulf Coast State (12-11, 0-6) six games back.
Win tonight and the Raiders own a 2 ½-game gap and the tiebreaker with the Indians, who the Raiders beat 95-84 in the first meeting at The Arena.
So what's been working for the Raiders? Try everything.
On the defensive end, the Raiders are limiting conference foes to 40 percent shooting and a 28-percent clip from beyond the arc. They're also dominating the boards to a 41-32 discrepancy.
On the offensive end, the Raiders are shooting 48.2 percent from the floor, burying 10 treys per game at a 36-percent clip and shining at the charity stripe at a 77.1-percent rate.
Oregon signee Chris Duarte leads the Raiders with 19.4 points per game (56 percent from floor, 41 percent from beyond arc and two 3s) to accent 7.5 rebounds. Javion Hamlet follows with 17.3 points per game (62 percent shooting) to pair with 6.4 assists and four rebounds per night.
Eric Vila has been a monster in Panhandle play, averaging a double-double of 13.8 points and 11.5 rebounds. He's joined in the post by a healthy Ludgy Debaut, who has averaged 6.5 points and six boards after missing 13 games with a stress fracture in his foot.