NICEVILLE — It took the NWF State women’s basketball team just eight minutes to mount a 20-point lead Thursday night.
That figure would still be impressive in November against a nonconference opponent, but in the first week of March it serves as an effective reminder of just how good the Raiders, ranked fifth in the country, truly are, Bart Walker’s crew cruising to an 77-54 victory against No. 22 Eastern Florida State College in Region VIII women’s basketball quarterfinals at The Arena in Niceville.
After winning the opening tip, Chanay Pinto, a 6-foot-1 freshman forward, bullied her way inside for an early offensive rebound before laying the ball in for a pair of early second chance points, and before two minutes had run off the clock, the Raiders had a 9-0 lead courtesy of 6-3 sophomore forward Rayven Peeples in the post.
With only two players on their roster at least 6-3, the Titans had no answers for the Raiders’ twin towers.
Peeples finished with a game-high 16 points and 11 rebounds, Pinto posted 11 points and eight boards and 6-0 sophomore Fapou Semebene added 13 points and nine rebounds, the trio leading NWF State to a 41-27 advantage on the glass and a 44-24 scoring advantage in the paint.
Their dominance inside evident, the Raiders also outshot the Titans 51.7% to 32.8%.
EFSC sophomores Jacquelyn Levay and Skye Williams led the Titans with 11 points apiece, though they shot a combined 8-for-26.
NWF State (25-4 overall) entered Thursday’s contest with its first outright Panhandle championship in 24 seasons, closing out conference play with a six-game win streak en route to a 9-3 finish.
By comparison, the Titans (23-7) owned just a three-game win streak, including an 81-69 victory against Suncoast Conference champion Florida Southwestern State in the finale.
The two met this past December at the NWF Classic where the Raiders won 73-52. Sophomore guard Reneasha Payton, a Fort Walton Beach alumnae, and Peeples led the team with 16 points each, while Pinto scored 15.
Up next, the Raiders will take on either Palm Beach State or Central Florida at 8 p.m. Friday at The Arena in the Region VIII semifinals with the championship game slated for 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Palm Beach finished its regular season with a 19-11 record, including an 11-1 record in conference play to claim the Southern championship. Central Florida finished 18-14, but its 4-5 record in Mid-Florida play left it just third in the conference standings. Neither squad was ranked in the NJCAA top 25.