By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE – Two weeks into the season, the national-title-contender tag looks good on the NWF State basketball programs.
Steve DeMeo's top-ranked men are 5-0.
Bart Walker's second-ranked women are 3-0.
Yet delve deeper than their records to see the true measure of their early dominance.
To wit: The men have yet to be played to within single digits and are outscoring foes 101-78.8.
That run-and-gun offense DeMeo called "the most versatile team I've ever had here." Yep, as advertised, the Raiders shooting 52 percent from the floor as a team and getting to the line 28 times a game fan 84-percent clip. Ever since putting up just 30 points in the first half of the opener against USC-Salkehatchie, the Raiders are averaging 53 points per half.
Emerging as the Raiders' one-two scoring punch has been sophomores Chris Duarte, Oregon bound next season, and Javion Hamlet.
The 6-foot-6 Duarte is averaging 22.2 points a night on 57 percent shooting from the floor and a 40-percent clip from beyond the arc, but his game is far from one-note. Case in point is his team-best eight rebounds per game and 3.2 assists, three steals and 1.4 blocks.
Hamlet, a transfer from Buffalo, follows with 20.2 points per game on a blazing 69-percent shooting clip from the floor, 75-percent rate from downtown and 93-percent efficiency from the charity stripe.
Texas A&M transfer Eric Vila is the other Raider averaging double-digit points, the 6-10 sophomore posting 12.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Kayne Henry, Sam Baker, Anthony Mason, Tyrie Jackson, Noah Morgan and Trey Diggs all average between 6-8 points a night.
The NWF State women also haven't been challenged, winning margins of 22, 35 and 46 lending to outscoring foes 78.3-44.
As for how the Raiders have done it, credit their depth.
Led by sophomores Cece Mayo and Georgia Gayle, the Raiders have seven players averaging seven-plus points a night for an offense shooting an efficient 50 percent from the floor and 42 percent from beyond the arc.
Mayo, a 5-9 guard from Albany, leads the Raiders with 16.5 points per game on 83 percent shooting to accent 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game.
Gayle, a sophomore bound for UCF next year, follows with 14 points and three treys per game to accent 4.3 assists. Jaiden McCoy, a 6-3 sophomore who sat out last year with a hip injury, is averaging 10 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds a night and Shania Merteens, a 5-8 sophomore bound for Clemson next year, is chipping in 9.3 points and two steals a night.
Lendra Echi is filling up the stat sheet with 7.7 points, 5.3 assists, 3.3 steals and 1.7 blocks per game, while LSU-bound Awa Trasi is averaging 7.7 points and seven rebounds. Alayjah Sherer follows with seven points and 2.7 steals per game.
The women next host Southern Union State and Lawson State on Friday and Saturday for 5:30 p.m. tipoffs at The Arena. The men follow at 7:30 against Spartanburg on Friday and Southwest Mississippi Saturday.