Raiders getting set for return trip to Hutch

Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 9:30 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) -Count Northwest Florida among the four area Juco basketball teams heading to their respective National Tournaments. The Raiders are in fact the lone automatic qualifier among those four. Steve DeMeo and his Raiders survived a tough battle with Tallahassee Saturday night, eventually walking away with a 89-85 win in that state championship game. As the champs, the Raiders get the automatic bid to the 24 team national tourney, and are slotted as the 7th seed in Hutchinson, Kansas. The Raiders get a first round bye then play next Tuesday in round two against the winner of the Butler and Roane State.

“We took off yesterday.” coach DeMeo told me Monday afternoon. “We had a watch party (Sunday night), we went over to Landshark, a sports bar here in town with pizza and wings. And the guys loved it. We saw we got picked seventh, had a lot of fun with it. We gave them yesterday off. Today (Monday) we lifted some weights it was kind of a lighter day. Tomorrow will get back to practicing, will practice on Wednesday and Thursday. We’re going to bus it up to Hutchinson, Kansas, so we’re going to leave on Friday. We’re going to drive to Little Rock stay overnight there and practice in Tulsa on Saturday. And then will practice on Wichita on Sunday. And then will head over to Hutchinson, Kansas to practice Monday and play Tuesday.”

Coach DeMeo getting set to lead a team to the National Tournament for a 6th time, so he, and to some degree, his assistant coaches all have experience in preparing the team. Both in terms of workouts and logistics and all that is involved in that. So there’s experience and confidence in terms of all that. Still the coach says “It really just comes down to one thing, just playing basketball and putting the ball in the basket. And playing some good defense. Like we did in the last three games. We defended for the most part, the first game was a high scoring game in a state tournament but we defended when we needed to defend. And we did that the last two games as well. So I know defense and rebounding travels. Don’t turn the ball over and take quality shots and you’ll have a chance to be in every single game.”

Though there’s just one player from last year’s squad, and a different head coach in place, the Raiders are the defending National Champs, so they’re playing for a repeat and the program’s 4th national title!