By SAM GRUBENHOFF
HUTCHINSON, Kansas — Steve DeMeo took a seat on the bench with roughly two minutes to play Thursday afternoon.
No amount of coaching could help his Northwest Florida State mens' basketball team stave off elimination from the NJCAA Tournament any longer. Southern Idaho was simply too much in the Raiders' 107-93 loss at the Hutchinson Sports Arena in Hutchinson, Kansas, and the Raiders simply didn't have it.
"It's hard because it's a really good group of guys, who have done the right thing almost every day," DeMeo said. "They all thought we could do this, finish the job. Unfortunately we ran into a really good team that was just hot from 3 and we just didn't have our mojo today."
With a Final Four berth on the line, it seemed as if the Eagles (30-5 overall) were able to answer every Raider bucket with one of their own, often a 3-pointer. Southern Idaho came into the matchup averaging 14 3s a game in the tournament and never let up from downtown Thursday, shooting 14-of-28 from beyond the arc.
By comparison, NWF State (31-3) shot only 5-of-19 from 3 and made only one 3 in the first half.
The result was a game where the No. 2 Raiders spent most of their afternoon trailing No. 10 Southern Idaho by at least 15 points.
"We lost the shooter a couple of times early," DeMeo said. "We just missed shots. We legitimately missed layups today, and if you do that, you don't convert, you that's what's gonna happen. You're gonna lose."
Three minutes, three Jake Hendricks 3-pointers and an 11-2 run later, NWF State trailed 28-20 and its shots stopped falling. The run of futility became painfully apparent with three minutes to play in the half when a D.J. Funderburk free throw rolled off the right side of the rim and turned into two Eagle free throws at the other end after a deadball foul went against NWF State.
Southern Idaho outscored the Raiders 34-17 over the final 11 minutes of the first half to head to the locker rooms up 51-35, well on track to eclipse 100 points in a game for the third straight time in the tournament.
Offensively, Eagles Charles Jones Jr. and Jake Hendricks torched the Raiders for 28 points in the first half and 50 points for the game. They were a combined 11-of-16 from 3.
The Raiders fared only slightly better in the second half. Hendricks opened the period with a near immediate 3-pointer from the right wing to put his team up 19.
Never quitting, NWF State kept swinging, cutting the deficit down to 16 points multiple times during the second half and eventually to 14 on Stanley Davis's layup with 14 seconds left but never any more.
"Honestly, we made adjustments and they adjusted," DeMeo said. "We played against a team that happened to be better than us today. For 31 nights we were the better team and we played against some of the best competition in the country. We were prepared to play, but they were better than us today.
"That's all you can really say."
Despite the loss, five Raiders finished in double figures. Andres Feliz, who figures to be a contender for National Player of the Year honors, led the Raiders with 28 points and 11 rebounds. Funderburk, who will head to NC State this fall, finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.
Having already upset a seven seed and a two seed, Southern Idaho advances to play the winner of No. 3 Vincennes and No. 6 Florida SouthWestern at 9 p.m. Friday in the NJCAA Final Four.
NWF State, meanwhile, heads back to Niceville. DeMeo said the loss will hurt for a while, but soon enough there will be another season. In the interim the Raiders can focus on what went right, for much did. They won 31 games. They cut down the nets with a Panhandle Conference title and again after a Region 8 Tournament championship. They fell short, but they made a heck of a run.
"We're proud of what we've accomplished as a group," DeMeo said.