By SETH STRINGER
NICEVILLE — Need a Valentine's Day date? Or have a valentine but no plans?
The basketball programs at NWF State have you covered with a Panhandle Conference doubleheader tonight at The Arena, where a "Red Out" will be in effect.
Bart Walker's third-ranked Raiders (22-2) host second-ranked Gulf Coast State at 5:30 p.m., followed by Steve DeMeo's second-ranked men (25-1) hosting the Commodores at 7:30.
All fans that wear red will gain free admission.
NWF State even got poetic about it on its Twitter page:
"Raiders wear red
Gulf Coast wears blue
Admission is free
If you wear red too."
Free basketball is one draw. Another is the many narratives for both Raider programs.
For the women, a win would not only shore up a Region 8 Tournament berth but also move the Raiders to 8-2 alongside Gulf Coast State for first place in the Panhandle Conference. If the teams finish conference play with the same mark, they'll be crowned co-champions with the Commodores being awarded the Panhandle's No. 1 seed in the Region 8 Tournament after winning the regular-season series.
A loss likely wouldn't hurt the Raiders as they need only to win one of their final three conference games to eliminate Tallahassee (19-5, 4-5) from playoff contention.
The men, meanwhile, could guarantee themselves the Panhandle's top seed in the region tournament with a win. At 8-1 in the conference, the Raiders lead second-place Chipola (17-6, 5-3) by 2 1/2 games and third-place Pensacola State (16-10, 5-4) by three games.
The Raider women are 0-2 against the Commodores, losing 50-48 at home earlier in the year despite leading by two points with less than 4 seconds to play and later losing by 12 in Panama City.
The Raider men handily defeated the Commodores 95-53 at The Arena and 89-63 on the road.
But as learned from Saturday's 87-70 loss at Pensacola State, a foe they'd beaten 79-46 and 74-64 earlier in the year, NWF State can't lean on past successes.
"I feel sick," DeMeo said. "We haven't had this feeling in 10 months. Everyone tells me a loss is a good thing and it'll help in the long run. We'll address it and we'll get better from it."
Boding well for an NWF State bounce-back is that Gulf Coast State (15-11) has limped to a 1-8 record in the Panhandle and has lost six straight. Even so, DeMeo sees a foe that looking to snap NWF State's 11-game win streak at home this season.
"Obviously they're struggling a bit but they're playing better of late," DeMeo said. "They changed their lineup a bit and have more offensive firepower. They're definitely an undersized team that's more guard-oriented.
"We just have to play our game, though. When you win a lot of games in a row, you relax. I'm to blame for that as well. When you're winning you overlook some things and don't always hold people accountable.
"It's time to get everyone back in line."