By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (December 29, 2014) — Tarleton State’s 64-60 victory over Drury in the final game of the Division II South Point Holiday Hoops Classic on December 19 followed the coaches’ script to near perfection.
And it’s a script fans can plan on seeing again throughout Lone Star Conference play.
In other words, the press is here to stay.
“I thought we did a great job of disrupting Drury and not letting them get into their offense a high percentage of the time, and that was critical to winning that game,” said Tarleton head coach Lonn Reisman of his fifth-ranked and unbeaten club’s narrow win over the No. 12 Panthers, who won a national championship two years ago. “You can’t let a team with Drury’s talent and Drury’s level of coaching walk down the court and set up their offense uncontested the entire game, because they will just grind you down. We prevented that by pressing and trapping.”
Indeed. And despite Tarleton also struggling with turnovers, the 18 the Texans forced Drury to commit played a key role in the outcome.
“We went to our press some last year, and we’ve used it early this year, but I can’t recall a time we’ve had that much success with it against an opponent of that caliber,” Reisman said. “And it came at the right time, because going into the Christmas break I think our coaches and our players all have confidence in it now and are looking forward to how we can build on it and continue to make it a key part of our game plan moving forward.”
In a post game radio interview with Tarleton play-by-play broadcaster Casey Hogan, senior forward Davene Carter credited the team’s depth for enabling them to press as much as they did against Drury.
“We have a lot of depth and that means we can stay fresh and continue to press,” said Carter. “When you have depth like we do it’s easier to stay energized.”
The depth showed up all over the final box score, with nine players contributing at least 12 minutes and only one – point guard Michael Hardge – playing more than 30. Eight of the nine Texans who played scored at least three points and eight snagged at least one rebound. Tarleton out-rebounded Drury 28-20 including 9-4 on the offensive glass.
Even freshman guard Deshawn Riddick contributed 23 minutes off the bench and hit a key second-half 3-pointer. The Texans got to see what they can do – defensively and offensively – with Riddick and Hardge, both point guards, on the court together.
“Lots of guys gave us big minutes, and that’s how it has to be if you’re going to play the style we want to play,” Reisman said. “The game of basketball is changing. Nowadays, it’s about finding a way to impose your will on teams, and not allow them to impose their will on you.”
And it’s worked. Tarleton is allowing just 59 points per game, second best nationally behind Gannon’s 56.3. Only four teams surrender less than 60.
There’s no telling how much the Texans will press against South Dakota Mines or York College (Neb.) this week. The games are Tuesday and Friday at Wisdom Gym, both tipping off at 7 p.m.
Tarleton may choose not to tip its hat too much with LSC play beginning January 7 at Angelo State, which has won 10 of its first 11 and is seventh in the nation in scoring at 93.1 points per game.
But one thing’s for sure. Tarleton plans on the press being a big part of its LSC title defense.
“It’s a big weapon for us, and we proved against Drury that we can use it successfully against a very high-caliber opponent,” Reisman said.
And his team will face several high-caliber foes in the LSC, whose top four teams have combined for a record of 40-6 with the bottom four currently 24-20.
“Our conference, top to bottom, is as good as I’ve seen it. It’s going to be a blistering conference race,” Reisman said.
Perhaps a suffocating press is just the ingredient needed to keep his Texans on top.