By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE – At the 17:06 mark of the first half, Steve DeMeo's jacket came off.
A 12-7 deficit to Chipola had hurried a move typically resigned until midway through the first half.
Ten minutes later, the NWF State men's basketball coach still wasn't happy as his team clung to a 29-26 lead.
"We ain't playing hard enough," he yelled in a timeout. "Get stops. Put the basket in the hole. Play harder."
By halftime the nation's top-ranked Raiders trailed 43-42, somewhat uncharted territory for a powerhouse that entered the night 6-0 in the Panhandle with a 92-71 average margin of victory. Uncharted territory for a program that hadn't been played to single digits in the Panhandle.
But as it's done all season, the Raiders found a way to win and keep the perfect season alive.
Andres Feliz scored 22 points, seven Raiders had at least eight points and the 24-0 Raiders improved to 7-0 in the Panhandle with an 85-79 win at The Arena.
"Helluva Panhandle win," DeMeo said. "Chipola's what we thought they were. They gave us a great game."
The win gives NWF State some separation over Chipola in the Panhandle, which the Raiders lead by 2 ½ games with Tallahassee (15-7, 2-4) a distant third.
The Raiders have also shored up a winning record against every Panhandle team outside of Tallahassee, who they travel to Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.
The Raiders never led by more than eight points in the second half or trailed by more than four.
Two of the biggest Raiders shots came off the fingertips of Tray Boyd III, who buried back-to-back 3-pointers from the right corner to give the Raiders a 75-74 lead with five minutes to play. TJ Howard answered with a jumper for Chipola, but then Derek Funderburk finished on a dunk inside and Chris Duarte buried a 3 from the left corner for an 80-76 lead with three minutes to play.
After a Yuat Alok free throw, Feliz buried four straight free throws to essentially ice the game.
Balance was the key for the Raiders, who had seven players with eight or more points. Boyd III had 14 points and buried four 3s, Funderburk and Kelvin Robinson each had 12 points, Jonas Parker added nine points and Karim Ezzeddine and Duarte each chipped in eight points, the latter delivering a team-best eight rebounds.
The Raiders withstood a 53-percent shooting effort from Chipola and 10 3-pointers. Helping offset that was a 19-10 scoring edge off turnovers, a 14-9 edge on second-chance points and a 17-12 scoring advantage off the bench. The Raiders also shot seven more free throws, the key to the game down the stretch.