By SAM GRUBENHOFF
NICEVILLE — Trey Diggs caught the ball, ankles pressed up against the near sideline of Mickey Englett Court.
A sophomore from Niceville, Diggs rose and fired, his motion fluid. The ball sliced through the net and the sixth-ranked Northwest Florida State men's basketball team was rolling, leading yet another conference foe by double-digits late in the first half of Saturday's 81-58 victory against Gulf Coast State in front of a raucous crowd at The Arena.
"I thought we played well," Raider coach Steve DeMeo said. "We shared the ball better in the second half ... It was one of those games where we basically had control of it. It was one of those games you just kind of play hard and move on to the next one."
The 23-point margin of victory was the Raiders' (20-2 overall, 6-0 Panhandle Conference) largest in conference play thus far and their fifth victory by double digits through six conference games.
DeMeo said the dominance comes down to the makeup of Raiders' roster. It's almost too good not to win.
"We have a good roster of guys," DeMeo said. "We can score, and when we play well and we shoot the ball well, we're pretty good."
NWF State was only OK shooting the ball on Saturday, hitting on 43.8 percent of its shots overall and 34.5 percent of its 3-pointers, but it didn't have to be perfect when its defense was executing.
The Raiders held Gulf Coast State (12-11, 0-6) to just 35.8 percent shooting and outrebounded the Commodores 49-32. Freshman Cameron Holden, the Commodores leading scorer, needed 20 shots to get 21 points.
Offensively, Eric Vila, a 6-foot-11 sophomore, led the way for the Raiders with a 14-point, 14-rebound double-double, while three other Raiders put up double-digit scoring figures. Sophomore Chris Duarte had 12 points and came up one rebound shy of a double-double. Sophomore Sam Baker also had 12 points with four assists, and 6-10 freshman Anthony Mason had 10 points and five rebounds.
DeMeo and the Raiders return to action against No. 8 Chipola at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on the road in Marianna. NWF State got the better of the Indians 95-84 on Jan. 12.
"It's a road game," DeMeo said. "Anytime you go on the road, it's tough. Chipola's atmosphere's incredible. It'll be really good, and most of these guys have never played there, so it'll be a challenge and we're looking forward to it.
"We're 6-0 in the league, so we're happy about that. We just gotta keep getting better."