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GC wades into tough, talented Panhandle competition

By DUSTIN KENT 
News Herald Assistant Sports Editor 
Posted Jan 3, 2018 at 7:22 PM

 

PANAMA CITY — Last season, Gulf Coast finished its pre-conference schedule with 14 wins in 17 outings before going 3-9 in Panhandle Conference play and missing out on the postseason. The Commodores (14-3) carry the same record into Saturday’s Panhandle Conference opener at the Billy Harrison Field House against Tallahassee at 7:30 p.m. and will try to avoid last year’s fate in a league that looks as tough as ever.

 

The Commodores recently wrapped up their pre-conference slate this season with a pair of victories at the Gulf Coast New Year’s Classic over Coastal Alabama and Gordon State. They head into league play with the same number of losses as Tallahassee (13-3) and Chipola (11-3) and half as many as Pensacola State (11-6).

 

All four of those teams are looking up in the state and national rankings at Northwest Florida State (17-0) — ranked No. 1 in the state and the country — though Gulf Coast coach Jay Powell said that the league will continue to be a grind for each team throughout the season.

 

“We have this conversation every year, but the league is so deep and so strong from top to bottom,” he said. “This league is known for having great players and great coaches and this year is no different. Certainly you have to give credit for Northwest Florida State and coach (Steve) DeMeo. It’s very tough to win in the Panhandle Conference, so the fact that they’ve recruited well enough and played well enough to win 15 straight games in the league says a lot about the job those guys have done. With that being said, I still believe that any team can beat any other team on any given night in this league.”

 

The Raiders certainly come into Panhandle Conference season as the favorites to repeat after last year’s 12-0 run through the league schedule and boast the most impressive pre-conference resume. Northwest has won 12 of its 17 games by double digit points, with a 99-93 overtime win over Harford on Dec. 1 in New Rochelle, New York, the closest call yet.

 

Northwest returns just two players from last year’s team and only one starter in point guard Andres Feliz, who is having an

outstanding sophomore campaign, averaging team bests in scoring (18.5 points per game) and assists (6.8). Sophomore 6-foot-4 transfer Tray Boyd III leads a talented crop of newcomers with 16.1 points per game while shooting 51.5 percent from the field, 52.7 percent from the 3-point line, and 85.2 percent from the free throw line.

 

Three other Raiders are averaging double figures, with 6-5 freshman Chris Duarte scoring 12.3 per game, followed by 6-9 freshman Derek Funderburk (11.0), and 6-2 sophomore Kelvin Robinson (10.3). Northwest has been dynamic on offense, scoring 93.1 points per game while shooting 54.2 percent from the field as a team and 40.3 percent from the 3-point line. The Raiders’ defense has been just as good, limiting opponents to 72.9 points per contest and 40.4 percent shooting.

 

Gulf Coast’s season thus far has been mostly steady save for a couple of bad outings — a 75-54 loss to San Jacinto on Nov. 17 in Niceville and a 106-76 defeat at the hands of Central Florida on Dec. 9 in Ocala. The Commodores’ only other loss came 75-70 to Hillsborough the day after falling to Central Florida. They bounced back with three straight wins, starting with a 97-76 rout of Enterprise State leading into last weekend’s New Year’s Classic.

 

Sophomore guard/forward Will Robinson has stepped into the void left by Jeremy Harris as Gulf Coast’s top offensive threat, raising his scoring average from 10.4 points per game as a freshman to a team-best 18.7 as a sophomore. The versatile 6-5 Robinson is shooting an efficient 48.7 percent from the floor and 75.9 percent from the foul line.

 

Freshman guard Myles McGregor has become the Commodores’ best floor spacer, hitting 38 of 104 (36.5 percent) threes while averaging 11.5 points per contest. Quadree Smith has provided the interior presence, as the 6-8 sophomore is putting in 10.1 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds per game.

 

Ty Gibson and Daniel Kiely have combined to give the Commodores a steady presence at the point guard position, with the sophomore Gibson averaging 9.4 points and 4.5 assists while hitting 37.8 percent from the 3-point line. Kiely has shaken off an ankle injury that sidelined him for three games and is putting in 6.3 points and a team-high 4.7 assists per contest.

 

The Commodores are averaging 74.4 points per game this season on 44.7 percent from the field, 31.3 percent from the 3-point line, and 65.9 percent from the foul line, while holding opponents to 70.6 points on 41.3 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from three.

 

Gulf Coast’s first conference opponent also is the only other Panhandle team currently ranked nationally, with the Eagles coming in at No. 25 in the NJCAA poll. The Eagles return just two players from last year’s team in 6-4 forward Leon Freeman-Daniels and 6-6 guard Jacob Winston, with a pair of newcomers leading the way offensively in 6-9 sophomore forward Corey Douglas (14.6) and 6-4 sophomore guard Javien Williams (13.7).

 

Freeman-Daniels is having a nice sophomore season with 11.6 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game while shooting 45 percent from the 3-point line. Sophomore guard Quentin Jackson also is averaging double figures with 11.6 points and a team-leading three assists per game. TCC is averaging 78.9 points per game on 44.3 percent from the field, 35.1 percent from the 3-point line, and 66.9 percent from the foul line, while allowing 70.1 points per contest on 37.9 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from deep.

 

Chipola has suffered a pair of close losses with an 86-85 overtime defeat to Central Florida before falling 92-87 to Georgia Highlands, and one lopsided loss in a 102-64 rout by Eastern Florida State. The Indians are led this season by a pair of returners in 6-8 forward Shamarkus Kennedy and 6-11 center Yuat Alok. Kennedy leads the team with 14.4 points per game on 62.9 percent shooting, while Alok follows with 13.7 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds.

 

The Indians sport an extremely balanced offensive attack with four other players averaging double figure points: 6-5 guard Brandon Mahan (12.1), 6-1 guard TJ Howard (12.0), 6-6 forward CJ Williamson (10.4), and 6-2 guard Keishawn Brewton (10.4). Chipola is the second-highest scoring team in the Panhandle at 91.1 points per game on 47.2 percent from the field, 36.2 percent from the 3-point line, and 72.4 percent from the foul line. The Indians are allowing 67.8 points per contest on 42.1 percent from the field and 33.4 percent from three.

 

Pensacola State bounced back from an 0-4 start to win 11 of the next 12 games before falling to Palm Beach State in its pre-conference finale. The Pirates return four players from last year’s group, with 6-8 post player Willesley Butler leading the team in scoring (12.0) and rebounding (7.1), and 6-1 guard Daryl Lewis adding 12 points and 2.1 assists per game while hitting 37.3 percent from the 3-point line.

 

The Pirates are averaging 66 points per contest on 44.6 percent from the field, 29.4 from three, and 67.3 percent from the foul line, while holding opponents to 59 points per game on 40.2 percent shooting and 30.8 percent from the 3-point line.

 

Pensacola State hosts Northwest Florida State in the only other Panhandle game Saturday. Chipola opens league play Tuesday

at Tallahassee.

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