By SETH STRINGER
OCALA – Javion Hamlet was playing hero ball.
Leaners in the lane. Clutch treys. Drawing contact for 11 trips to the charity stripe.
In NWF State's first postseason test, Hamlet was James Harden-esque.
Simply put, the sophomore point guard wouldn't let NWF State lose Thursday as he dropped a career-best 35 points on Daytona State to lead the Raiders to an 82-72 win and into the Region 8 tournament semifinals in Ocala.
Now top-seeded Florida Southwestern State, the Suncoast champion and 30-1 on the year after Thursday's 109-71 win over Indian River, awaits for a 5 p.m. showdown today at the College of Central Florida.
Word to the wise: The Buccaneers may want to keep an eye – and a pair of bodies – on Hamlet.
The 6-foot-3 star shot 12-20 from the floor, 2-3 beyond the arc and 9-11 from the charity stripe to accent five assists and four rebounds. Averaging 17.3 points during the regular season, his previous high was 28 points against Coastal Alabama North on Nov. 7.
To put Hamlet's effort into perspective, he nearly had as many baskets as the rest of the Raiders. Everyone not named Hamlet combined for 13 makes and shot below 31 percent, including a 4-17 effort from Panhandle Player of the Year Chris Duarte.
Twenty-one of Hamlet's points came after the Raiders led 38-30 at halftime, the left-handed star quashing rally after rally with timely shots.
Like his 3-pointer with 8:07 left to play, the shot clock winding down to three seconds as Hamlet rose beyond the arc on the right wing and put the Raiders up 61-51.
A couple of minutes later he attacked the rim, drew contact and muscled in a contested leaner in the post that climbed the rim and gave the Raiders a 65-57 lead. Afterward he'd go 5-6 at the charity stripe to cap his 9-for-11 effort and help ice the win.
A win that came against a dangerous Daytona State squad ranked 21st in the nation after a 25-6 regular-season and a runner-up campaign in the Mid-Florida Conference. Making the Falcons even more dangerous was the fact they needed this win to stay alive in the hunt for a national tournament bid.
But this is NWF State.
Reigning Region 8 champion. Laden with Division I talent. National title contender.
And the Raiders passed their first postseason test Thursday, killing the Falcons on the boards with 18 offensive rebounds that led to a 46-33 edge and 14 second-chance points to Daytona's State's seven.
Meanwhile the underdogs struggled to the tune of 38 percent shooting and a 4-for-22 clip from beyond the arc, well short of their average of 10.2 treys a night on a 39-percent clip.
While Duarte struggled from the floor en route to 16 points, he shined with 12 rebounds and four blocks to give the Oregon-bound sophomore a double-double. Tyrie Jackson added 13 points, five rebounds and three steals and Noah Morgan delivered 12 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.