By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE – Must-win is one description, but there are more.
Winner takes all. Win or go home. Live to see another day. Playing for all the marbles.
Even survive and advance suffices.
This is the reality the NWF State women's basketball team currently faces, Bart Walker's crew knotted with Tallahassee at 7-5 in Panhandle Conference play.
The result is tonight's one-game playoff on Chipola's neutral court, where the two will tip off at 6:30 p.m. for the opportunity to secure runner-up honors behind Panhandle champion Gulf Coast State and with it a spot in the Region 8 tournament.
Meanwhile the loser heads home empty-handed with a long offseason looming.
How'd the teams get to this point? Well, very disparate paths.
NWF State (22-5), ranked seventh in the country, began the conference slate 7-2 before losing three straight to Gulf Coast State, Chipola and Tallahassee.
The collapse allowed Tallahassee, ranked eighth in the nation, to shake off a 4-5 start to conference play and finish with three straight wins to force the playoff. Saturday's 71-69 win over Pensacola State was the final straw to cap the improbable climb back.
NWF State went 2-1 against Tallahassee during the regular season, defeating the Eagles 64-56 at home and 62-56 on the road. Yet the winning record had no impact on settling any tiebreaker.
The Raiders will attempt to draw from that experience in Marianna, where a few key matchups loom large.
In the three matchups combined, NWF State owned the boards by a 123-78 disparity.
In the two victories, the difference was that the Raiders converted on the easy looks by shooting 47 and 48 percent. In the loss, they shot 35 percent, struggled to get to the line with 12 less free throws and failed to convert on all 18 3-point attempts.
The small sample size would point to the 35-percent clip being the outlier of the group.
The Raiders are also averaging 24 turnovers in the three meetings, a trend they must shore up in order for the offense to get into its half-court set and utilize the size advantage.
Another focus is containing 5-foot-11 freshman Japonica James, who's averaging 18 points against the Raiders on 62 percent shooting while getting to the charity stripe seven times a night.
Lastly, the Raiders need someone to take over on the offensive end.
Through conference play, only Trinity Baptiste (11.7 points per game) and Georgia Gayle (10.3) are averaging double-digit points. Meanwhile Jade Lewis (9.8) and Ann Jernigan (7.7) are shooting below 34 percent from the floor and Awa Trasi (7.8) has disappeared recently after a blistering start.