NICEVILLE — Credit where credit is due, the College of Central Florida put up a better fight against the No. 5 NWF State women’s basketball team than Eastern Florida State did, but that’s not saying much.
Instead of mounting a 20-point lead in the first quarter, the Raiders waited until the second period to take their big lead en route to a 80-53 victory against the Patriots in the Region VIII semifinals on Friday night at The Arena in Niceville.
Leading just 14-13 after one, coach Bart Walker’s crew dropped 29 points in the second quarter to take a 43-24 lead into locker room at halftime, freshman guard Laura Taylor draining back-to-back 3-pointers before the buzzer sounded.
"I think we played really hard," Walker said. "I don’t think we were very efficient tonight; it’s the second game of the tournament, so you will have a little bit of a letdown to start the game. We didn’t come out with the intensity we have, but I thought in the second quarter we turned it back up and played the way we do."
As they did in Thursday’s quarterfinal contest against Eastern Florida State, forwards Chanaya Pinto and Rayven Peeples proved unstoppable on the glass, leading the Raiders to a 36-4 advantage on the boards at halftime; the Patriots didn’t record an offensive rebound in the first half and went without any rebounds at all in the second quarter.
Both Pinto and Peeples finished with double-doubles, the former recording 14 points and 11 rebounds and the latter 17 and 13.
NWF State finished with a 51-20 advantage on the boards and a 22-7 mark on the offensive glass, which led to a 16-4 advantage in second chance points.
"I think later in the season we’ve been really aggressive," Walker said. "We have some length and some ability to go rebound the ball when we miss it. Rebounding is effort, and we’ve been challenging them to put forth that effort."
A Fort Walton Beach alumnae, sophomore P-Nut Payton put forth effort in spades, leading all scorers with 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including a 4-for-7 mark from 3. As a team, the Raiders shot 9-of-26 from downtown.
Sophomore Deidre Chermond and freshman Lauryn Jackson led Central Florida with 10 points each, the Patriots shooting just 34.5% from the floor.
The Raiders (26-4 overall) entered the Region VIII tournament with their first outright Panhandle championship in 24 seasons, closing out conference play with a six-game win streak en route to a 9-3 finish before dominating No. 22 Eastern Florida State 77-54 on Thursday night; NWF State led by 20 points after just eight minutes.
Finishing third in the Mid-Florida Conference, Central Florida (19-15) topped Palm Beach State 73-60 on Friday with only eight players to set up its date with the Raiders. Of those eight, four reached double-digit scoring figures, including sophomore Deija Jackson who posted 17 points and seven rebounds on 7-of-12 shooting.
Up next, the Raiders will face conference rival Gulf Coast State at 7:30 p.m. Saturday for the Region VIII crown after the Commodores rallied from down seven to beat Miami Dade College 71-64 shortly before NWF State took the court Friday night.
No. 6 Gulf Coast (23-4) got the better of the Raiders in two out of three matchups during the regular season, but NWF State holds the series’ most recent victory. After falling 78-66 on Jan. 4 at home and again 59-54 on Jan. 25 in Panama City, Walker and Co. won 63-49 on Feb. 8 at The Arena behind Pinto’s 25 points and nine rebounds on 8-of-14 shooting. Peeples and Payton finished with 19 points each, Peeples posting a double-double with 12 boards.
"We’ve played each other three times this year," Walker said. "We’ve seen each other play multiple times … but it’s the Panhandle championship, so I think we just have to go out and play hard.
"We’re happy and honored to be in this game, and I’m looking forward to the challenge."