By DUSTIN KENT
PANAMA CITY — Gulf Coast coach Roonie Scovel said she knew she would learn a lot about her team following its first two conference games against No. 3 Tallahassee and No. 1 Northwest Florida State.
After Wednesday's 75-67 loss to the top-ranked Lady Raiders (16-0 overall, 2-0 in league play) at the Billy Harrison Field House, it's clear that the No. 7 Lady Commodores (13-2, 1-1) will have their work cut out for them if they're to remain on top of the Panhandle Conference for a fourth straight season.
That's hardly a revelation in a league that features four teams ranked in the top 10 in the NJCAA poll, but the Lady Raiders served notice Wednesday that they may be ready to assume the mantle of the Panhandle's premier team.
"We didn't execute very well (in the fourth quarter)," Scovel said. "We didn't run very good picks, didn't execute the offense very well, and they got in our grill a little bit. They adjusted their defense and got a little more aggressive and that seemed to bother us."
Georgia Gayle also had 13 points for Northwest and hit a 3-pointer to put the Lady Raiders up 64-62 with 3:26 to play. Another triple from Leandra Echi made it a 69-65 Northwest lead with two minutes remaining.
A pair of free throws by Astou Gaye cut the deficit in half with 1:33 on the clock, but a basket inside by McCoy on a baseline out of bounds play put the Lady Raiders back up four, and McCoy hit two free throws with 40.8 seconds to make it 73-67.
After another empty offensive trip for Gulf Coast, Gayle salted the game away with two more free throws for the final margin.
Alexus Dye led the Lady Commodores with 17 points and Diéné Diané added 13. Gulf Coast jumped out to an 11-2 lead to start the game, but Mayo rallied the Lady Raiders back with 10 points in the first quarter to cut the margin to one.
The game remained nip and tuck the rest of the way, with neither team leading by more than five points until the final minute of regulation.
Gulf Coast last led after a transition basket from Diané and a pair of free throws by Brittany Davis made it 62-59 with five minutes left in the game. A basket inside by McCoy followed by Gayle's go-ahead three put the Lady Raiders on top for good.
Being 1-1 after games against Tallahassee and Northwest Florida State is something most teams would take, but Scovel said the Lady Commodores are going to have to look more like the team that beat TCC on Saturday than the one she saw Wednesday if they're going to compete for another conference title.
"We didn't perform our roles tonight," she said. "On Saturday, people performed their roles. Tonight, the defenders didn't defend, the rebounders didn't rebound, the point guards didn't manage the team as well as they did Saturday, and the coaches didn't coach as good. It was a team loss and we all have to get better."
Gulf Coast will next play Saturday at Pensacola State. Northwest is home for Chipola on Saturday.
NORTHWEST FLORIDA STATE (75)
Gayle 3 4-4 13, Echi 2 3-4 8, Trasi 3 0-0 6, Meertens 5 0-1 10, Zakharova 0 0-0 0, Sales 0 0-0 0, McCoy 8 2-3 18, Mayo 8 4-7 20. Totals: 29 13-19 75.
GULF COAST (67)
Farcy 2 0-0 5, Dye 6 5-10 17, Marshall 3 0-0 6, Payton 2 0-0 5, Diané 5 0-0 13, Davis 2 4-4 8, Banks 2 2-2 5, Mbandu 2 0-0 5, Gaye 1 2-2 4. Totals: 24 13-18 67.
Northwest 18 17 20 20 — 75
Gulf Coast 19 21 16 11 — 67
3-point field goals: Gulf Coast 6 (Diané 3, Farcy, Payton, Mbandu), Northwest 4 (Gayle 3, Echi). Total fouls: Gulf Coast 18, Northwest 18. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls: Meertens.