Indians Seek 22nd in a Row
Chipola (22-1, 6-0 in the Panhandle Conference) beat the Raiders 69-60 Jan. 10 in Niceville, a game in which the Indians trailed by 10 with 10 minutes to play.
“They should’ve beat us,” Indians coach Greg Heiar said of the Raiders in the two teams’ first meeting. “They outplayed us. We can’t get outplayed Saturday on our home court.”
It’s been a downhill slide for NWF St. ever since the loss to Chipola.
The Raiders are in last place in the conference at 1-5 in a season in which they hoped to compete with Chipola for the league title and a state tournament berth.
Heiar struggled to come up with reasons for the Raiders’ struggles.
“I really don’t know," the coach said. “I like their team a lot. They execute, they rebound, they play hard…I think maybe the lack of experience. They’ve got lot of freshmen playing big roles. I have not seen them since we played them and up to that point I thought they were really good.”
The Raiders are led by the sophomore combination of Charvez Davis (18.3 points per game) and Jamar Sanders (16.6 ppg).
“Both of those kids can have big nights if you let them get going,” Heiar said. “We’ve got to be focused and ready to play.”
That certainly wasn’t a problem for the Indians Tuesday night when they destroyed Gulf Coast 83-46.
The win came after the Indians’ most difficult victory of the conference season, an 86-81 overtime win over Tallahassee just three days earlier.
“I think the TCC game was definitely a wake-up call for the team,” Heiar said. “We got outplayed that night. When that happens, you just basically have to go back to the drawing board, check yourself back in, bring your lunch pale and work hard to correct some of the mistakes and slippage we were having as a team. The team really responded.”
Heiar said that his players, who haven’t had to be pressured by him very often this year, have responded with big performances every time he has challenged them.
“I think that shows a lot about these kids and how hard they work to be successful,” the coach said. “It’s a fun group to be around. They continue to respond time and again.”
The Indians have been dominant at home this year, which isn’t good news for the visiting Raiders.
Chipola is a perfect 8-0 at the Milton H. Johnson Center, with its two home conference wins coming by an average of 33.5 points.
“It has been a great environment here and fun for these kids,” Heiar said. “I still get nervous before every game, but it has been a phenomenal performance by our guys at the Milton H. Johnson Health Center. We just have to keep it rolling.”
Heiar said that a big part of the team’s home success is due to the home court advantage the Indians’ fans have been giving them.
“Our crowd, you have to give them credit,” the coach said. “They’ve been into the games, been very enthusiastic, they’ve supported these kids and the kids are responding by giving them a great show.
“We’re very thankful for the support from the community. Everyone likes to play in front of great fans and they’ve been phenomenal this year.”
The Indians are led by sophomore guard Casey Mitchell, who is averaging 22 ppg in 25 minutes per night.
Justin Brownlee is averaging 14 ppg off the bench, with Gary Flowers adding 12 points and eight rebounds and Jeremy Jacob scoring 10 ppg.
Malcolm Armstead leads the team with six assists per game.
Heiar called Mitchell a “scoring machine,” and praised him for his team-first approach this season.
“He lets it come to him, so it’s not like he’s selfish,” the coach said. “He’s not selfish at all. He’s the ultimate team guy. He’s really enjoying his teammates. He knows he can’t do it without them.
“He’s had an unbelievable start to the year, he’s just got to keep it going.”
So do the Indians, who are three games clear of the rest of the conference with only six games to play.
“Our goal is to win every game we play and the thing about it is we have to keep getting better,” Heiar said. “We’ve got six games left and then tournament play, which is one-and-done. We’re going to treat these next six games like they’re one-and-done so we’ll be prepared for the tournament when it comes around.”