New York state of mind

New York state of mind

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NWF State wants to be a part of it, New York, New York!

Times Square, Rockefeller Center, the 9-11 memorial, China Town ... the Raiders men's basketball team is ready to embrace the tourist label and take a bite out of the Big Apple.

On and off the hardwood.

The reason for the trip is the Monroe College Invitational, a showcase where the Raiders will face a tough three-day swing at DeMeo's old stomping grounds.

DeMeo was just 28 when he took over the Monroe program. He had just one head coaching job under his belt.

Now, decades later, the Queens native returns home with a national championship and the No. 2 team in the country.

At 9-0, the Raiders have earned the hype. Beating four ranked teams and posting a 91-66 average margin of victory will garner some love for the pollsters.

 

Results

Nov. 1: NWF State at Coastal Alabama, 83-78 W

Nov. 3: Volunteer State at NWF State, 94-72 W

Nov. 4: Motlow State at NWF State, 81-64 W

Nov. 10: Coastal Alabama at NWF State, 84-67 W

Nov. 11: Taylor Made at NWF State, 116-53 W

Nov. 17: Spartanburg Methodist, 94-60 W

Nov. 18: San Jacinto at NWF State, 95-69 W

Nov. 24: NWF State vs. Lamar State, 83-56 W

Nov. 25: NWF State vs. Trinity Valley, 85-77 W

 

But this road trip – the Raiders flew out Tuesday – is so much more than a test on the hardwood. Come March it could be the foundation for a national title run.

"It's about bonding," said DeMeo. "Flying together, doing the touristy thing, going out to eat together — this is the kind of trip that will tell you a lot about the team, the players. It's about getting to know the guys on a different level."

DeMeo has flown just once before in his five years with the program. The first time was to last year's national tourney, where the Raiders lost to host Hutchinson in the Final Four.

Last year's team didn't have this kind of experience headed into Kansas. This team is hoping to make the most of the opportunity.

DeMeo called the three games — Harcum at 3 p.m. Thursday, Harford at 2 p.m. Friday and Monroe 4 p.m. Saturday — a "good test" for his undefeated crew, which appears in postseason form through the season's first month.

There was the 81-64 rout over ninth-ranked Motlow State.

There was the 95-69 handling of 16th-ranked San Jacinto.

There was the 94-60 beatdown of 21st Spartanburg Methodist.

Then, what DeMeo argues to be their best win, was an 85-77 victory over an 8-1 Trinity Valley crew that routed Pensacola State.

"First off, we try to play the best schedule," DeMeo said. "We've faced three ranked opponents and one team in Trinity Valley that was better than them all. That's four super high-level programs that have tested us. It's making us a better team."

The best in the nation? That will be seen come March.

What we do know is the team possesses no glaring weakness, only strengths.

Like its ability to defend. Man-to-man, zone, help defense, every kind of trap — DeMeo's crew brings myriad looks, kind of like Steve Kerr's Golden State Warriors.

The result is a defense that's holding foes to 40 percent shooting and a 24-percent clip from beyond the arc. The most points any foe has scored is 78.

"One of our strengths is our versatility. That allows us to change up defenses," DeMeo said. "It's like against Trinity Valley, we played zone without Kelvin Robinson, our best on-the-ball defender. But we switched to man-to-man in the middle of the game and that helped us out.

"It takes a lot of communication, but that's only gotten better as the season's wore on."

The headline grabber, though, has been NWF State's high-octane offense.

Going through the wins, the Raider have shot 52, 64, 59, 51, 57, 54, 49, 53 and 47 percent from the floor. That's a collective 54 percent clip nearly a third into the season.

That includes a lights-out 41 percent from beyond the arc. The Raiders have made seven, 10, 16, nine, 11, 13, 15, seven and seven 3s in their wins, good enough for 11 a night.

Not turning the ball over has helped, the Raiders committing single digit giveaways in five contests and coughing up the ball less than 12 times a night. The 19 assists per game also help.

"No one cares who scores," DeMeo said. "For us it's been about making the extra pass, or making the extra, extra pass. We have the talent, but we've always had talent. That's been a tradition. But these guys play the right way and in terms of unselfishness, they may be a cut above any other team I've coached here."

The share-the-wealth mentality is represented by five players averaging double-digit points.

Point guard Andres Feliz, a 6-fooot-2 sophomore, leads the team with 19.4 points a night on 64 percent shooting. He's also averaging 6.4 assists, a pair of steals and 1.2 3-pointers on 44 percent shooting.

"His 3-point range drastically improved this year," DeMeo said. "That's added another dimension to his game and he's stepped up in multiple ways."

Sophomore guard Tray Boyd III, standing 6-foot 4, follows with 16.8 points a game on 57 percent shooting and 3.9 treys a night at an other-worldly 52-percent clip.

"He's been outstanding from 3," DeMeo said.

Off the bench, freshman sixth-man Chris Duarte is filling up the stat sheet with 12.3 points a night on 52 percent shooting, 1.9 3 pointers and 5.7 rebounds.

Then there's 6-2 sophomore guard Kelvin Robinson averaging 11.4 points on 56 percent shooting, 4.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.1 steals. Meanwhile, 6-9 forward Derek Funderburk, an NC State signee, is averaging 10.8 points on 54 percent shooting to accent 4.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals and a block a night.

The other starter is sophomore Karim Ezzedine, who DeMeo praised for the contributions that don't always show up on the stat sheet. The 6-9 forward is averaging 4.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and a steal and a block a night.

"Our staring five is five sophomores because DJ is pretty much a sophomore in age," DeMeo said. "They have those veteran qualities, that drive."

And now the experience of flying and soon playing back-to-back-to-back on the road.

"This is one of those trips where if we're fortunate to make state and nationals, we could look back to and say, 'This is when it all come together,' " DeMeo said. "These guys, a lot of them haven't been through something like this. Hopefully we make the most of it."