By SETH STRINGER
OCALA – This was a statement tournament run by Steve DeMeo's crew.
NWF State owned the non-conference slate. Owned the Panhandle.
And now the Raiders own Region 8, Saturday's 92-67 championship win over Chipola in Ocala putting to rest most of the drama that could be had on Selection Monday.
Unlike last year's at-large bid, the Raiders won't have to sweat out their placement too much in the national tournament bracket reveal. Instead they have their automatic bid and third Region 8 title in four years, redeeming last year's semifinal exit and celebrating their second nets-cutting ceremony of the season.
"That's what you play the season for, to be regional state champs and put you in position for the national tournament," said DeMeo, NWF State's head coach. "The guys played tremendously in Ocala ... and they were lights-out today. They took care of business.
"We accomplished two of our goals already and we still have one more to go."
Now only two questions remain: Where will they fall in the national tournament seeding? Where will their path begin to cutting down the nets in Hutchinson, Kansas?
Only No. 1 Indian Hills (32-0) and No. 3 Vincennes (29-1) are currently ahead of NWF State (30-2) on the national ranks, where the Raiders can move up further considering they routed No. 2 Florida SouthWestern State 86-65 in the semifinals.
It'll be up to the NJCAA selection committee on where to rank the Raiders, who will gather Monday for the 11:30 p.m. selection show.
Andres Feliz wouldn't miss it for the world. After all, the Panhandle Conference Player of the Year has been at the heart of NWF State's success all season. Saturday was no different.
The sophomore point guard scored a game-high 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting, filling up the stat sheet with nine rebounds, six assists and three steals.
"Second year starting point guard, he's everything you dream of in a point guard," DeMeo said. "Even today he was so relaxed when we fell down early. He's the straw that stirs the drink and he's done that for us consistently all year."
Feliz was not alone amid an offense that shot 54 percent from the floor and drained 9-of-18 3-pointers and a defense that forced 21 turnovers, limited the Indians to 38 percent shooting and dominated the boards to a 44-31 disparity.
"When our offense plays like that it fuels our defense," DeMeo said.
Collectively, the Raiders held a 28-15 scoring edge off turnovers and a 30-4 scoring advantage off the bench. By halftime it was 39-28 and the lead never dipped below double digits afterward.
NWF State improved to 3-1 against Chipola, which had beaten the Raiders 98-91 late in the season after DeMeo's crew had long shored up the conference crown. On Saturday there was no question of who was the better team on the hardwood.
Now on to Hutchinson for the Raiders.