Northwest Florida claims 2015 state crown

Northwest Florida claims 2015 state crown

OCALA-Benji Bell scored 15 of his game-high 25 points to lead Northwest Florida State to a 76-69 win over Eastern Florida State in the FCSAA/ NJCAA Region VIII Championship Game.

Bell, who earned tournament MVP, finished the event with 62 points and scored 10 points over the final 4:03 to help the Raiders (29-2) to their first state championship since 2012.

Jalen Jackson (17 points, six rebounds) and Brandon Austin (15 points, seven rebounds, four assists) backed Bell in the win. 

Both Jackson and Austin were named to the all-tournament team for the Raiders. 

Austin's 3-pointer with 14:23 remaining in the game gave NWFS the lead for good during a 7-0 run.

Kyle Meyer (16 points, 15 rebounds), Djordje Beronja (14 points, six rebounds), Jermohn Queen (14 points, five rebounds, three assists), Demetrius McReynolds (13 points), Payton Hulsey (12 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) led the way for EFS.

The Titans outrebounded the Raiders 54-46 and 25-19 on the offensive glass.

For EFS, Meyer and McReynolds were named to the all-tournament team.

Both NWFS and EFS qualified for the NJCAA National Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.

The Raiders, who defeated EFS 89-81 this past November, have made the national tournament in three of the past four years.

A year ago, though, NWFS missed out, but thanks to Bell and company its headed back.

The Raiders built a seven-point halftime lead and went up by nine early in the second half.

From there, the Titans responded with a 12-2 run and went ahead 43-43 with 15:03 left on a 3-pointer by Queen.

Austin's 3-pointer, though, sparked an 8-0 run for the Raiders.

EFS got to within one point on two occasions, the last coming with 4:42 remaining.

Bell, though, scored four straight points during a 9-2 run that pushed the Raiders' edge to eight with 1:40 left.

The Titans, who rallied from down six in the final 1:53 against St. Petersburg in the semifinals, were unable to get closer than four points the rest of the way.

EFS, meanwhile, is headed back to the national tournament for the first time since 2000.

The Titans are headed to nationals as the Zone Qualifier.

Three years ago, the NJCAA started having a zone qualifier and at-large bids and this is the first time that Region VIII had the chance to have its runner-up per its by-laws when the changes to the national tournament were announced.

Other members of the all-tournament team included: CF's Terrell Rogers; Pensacola's Shamar Johnson; Hillsborough's Daniel Harris; Daytona's Tanksley Efianayi; Miami Dade's Shane Rector and Marvin Jean-Pierre; St. Petersburg's Justin Satchell.