By DUSTIN KENT
PANAMA CITY — Gulf Coast came painfully close to pulling off the upset over No. 6 Tallahassee in its Panhandle Conference opener on Saturday, surrendering a 12-point lead with just eight minutes remaining.
In Wednesday's home league debut against No. 8 Northwest Florida State, the outcome was never in much doubt. The Raiders led wire to wire in a 78-65 victory to move to 2-0 in the Panhandle Conference and 16-2 overall. The Commodores are now 12-7 and 0-2 in league play.
Javion Hamlet and Kayne Henry both scored 20 points to lead the Raiders, with Noah Morgan adding 14 points, and Eric Vila 10. Cameron Holden was the top scorer for the Commodores with 20 points, followed by Jerrel Kelly with 14, and Jacolbey Owens with 12.
Northwest was in control from the opening tip, jumping out to a 13-2 lead to start the game and never allowing Gulf Coast to get closer than six the rest of the way.
The margin was just eight after a 3-pointer by KK Godwin with 1:41 left in the first half, but Henry had the answer for Northwest with a triple of his own to give the Raiders a 40-29 lead at the break.
A spinning two from Holden and a floater from Owens made it a single-digit game at 48-39, but the Raiders outscored the Commodores 18-4 over the next six minutes to pull away for good.
Vila caught a lob pass from a baseline out of bounds play for an easy finish to start the decisive run, with Chris Duarte adding a transition bucket and Henry a 3-pointer to make it 55-41.
Morgan threw down a thunderous dunk on the fast break moments later, with a three-point play by Henry, and a floater in the lane by Hamlet making it 64-43 with 10:16 remaining.
Another three by Henry, a bucket inside by Vila, and a corner three from Duarte all but put the game to bed with the Raiders leading 74-49 with 5:42 on the clock.
Gulf Coast will next play Saturday at Pensacola State, while Northwest Florida State will be home for Chipola on Saturday.
NORTHWEST FLORIDA STATE (78)
Jackson 0 1-2 1, Hamlet 7 6-7 20, Morgan 6 0-0 14, Duarte 3 2-2 9, Vila 5 0-0 10, Diggs 0 0-0 0, Henry 7 1-1 20, Baker 0 0-0 0, Mason 1 2-2 4. Totals: 29 12-14 78.
GULF COAST (65)
Godwin 3 0-0 7, Gordon 2 0-1 4, Owens 5 1-1 12, N'Dolo 0 0-2 0, Holden 6 6-7 20, Burke 1 0-0 2, Kelly 6 1-2 14, Rivera 3 0-0 6. Totals: 26 8-13 65.
Halftime score — Northwest 40, Gulf Coast 29
3-point field goals: Northwest 8 (Henry 5, Morgan 2, Duarte), Gulf Coast 5 (Holden 2, Godwin, Owens, Kelly). Total fouls: Gulf Coast 12, Northwest 11. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls: none.