NICEVILLE – There was no way this was going to end well for Jake Williams and his USC-Salkehatchie crew.
NWF State, affirming the hype of its No. 1 preseason rank and the same homecourt advantage that led to a 13-0 mark at The Arena last season, outscored the unranked Indians 53-37 in the second half Friday night to pull away with an 83-68 win in Niceville.
But a victory for the visitors wasn't the point, was it?
Williams knew how unlikely an upset was. He'd seen firsthand from the NWF State bench the prestige of the Raider program, which he helped lead to a 56-11 record, a region title, a pair of Elite Eight appearances and a Final Four in his two years under Steve DeMeo.
Then in 2017 he left for USC-Salk. Certainly not for greener pastures, but for the head coach title.
On his own, Williams proved to be the same winner.
His USC-Salk crew went 20-10 in his first year as head coach, an overtime loss to Cape Fear Community College the only thing separating the Indians from the NJCAA tournament.
Yet that same crew wasn't ready for a trip to the Arena last November.
This year, Williams settled in South Carolina with a full season of recruiting under his belt, his Indians would be prepared, he promised.
He was right.
"They know everything we do. We know everything they do," DeMeo said. "I think our full-court trap got to them in the second half and our shots started to fall and we were lucky to pull away from them late.
"Jake Williams is a helluva coach. I love this team. I love the way they play and the way they defend. They kept us off-balanced."
At least for a half, the Indians (0-1) looked like they were primed to deliver the marquee upset.
That 13-0 mark at The Arena last season? USC-Salk nor Williams cared, the visitors shooting 44 percent to NWF State's 30-percent clip, which included a paltry 3 of 17 from beyond the arc.
That all changed in the second half.
NWF State (1-0) shot 61 percent out of the locker rooms, Javion Hamlet scoring 17 of his team-high 19 points and Chris Duarte tacking on 10 of his 18 points to accent 10 rebounds for the double-double. Vila added 14 points and nine boards for the Raiders, who took a 36-35 lead on a Hamlet layup and never looked back.
A 3-pointer from Niceville alumnus Trey Diggs midway through the second half pushed the lead to 52-42 and up late, Duarte and Ludgy Debaut posterized a pair of defenders to put the exclamation point on the win.
The season-opening weekend showcase continues Saturday when the Indians play Coastal Alabama at 3:30 p.m. and the Raiders, following the NWF State women playing Daytona State at 5:30, host ASA College at 7:30 p.m.