By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (January 6, 2015) — Tarleton State is growing accustomed to all top 10 showdowns and Stephenville is no stranger to key Lone Star Conference battles.
The latest in both categories is on tap at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Wisdom Gym, as the No. 9 Texans (11-2, 1-0) welcome No. 4 Angelo State (12-0, 0-0) back to town for a rematch of last season’s South Central Region final.
Tarleton won, 68-66, and advanced all the way to the national semifinals following its third regional championship, but Lonn Reisman says it’s the talent on the Angelo State roster he’s concerned with, not the Rams coming in seeking revenge.
“They only have one player back from that team, it’s a whole new team,” said head coach Lonn Reisman, who on Saturday became the sixth active NCAA Division II coach and 16th all time to reach 600 wins. “They can really score the basketball, that’s their biggest strength. We have to stick to our game plan and we have to play outstanding defensively.”
That sounds much like what Reisman said leading up to the regional final last season. Which should come as no surprise. Despite changing head coaches and having only center Omari Gudul back, ASU shows primarily the same strengths it did a year ago.
The Rams are off to their best start in school history on the strength of a high-octane offense averaging 95.3 points per game and shooting 49 percent from the floor. One of only three remaining undefeated teams in the country, ASU leads the LSC in scoring margin at 21.7 points per game.
Allen Steadman and Trey Bennett give the Rams the third and fifth leading scorers in the conference. Both guards, Stedman averages 16.7 points per game and Bennett 16.4. It doesn’t stop there with Shelton Boykin scoring 15.4, Gudul, known previously as only a defensive stalwart, has shown improved offensive skill at 9.8. Quay King averages 9.5, and two others score 6.8 or better.
“They are a complete team offensively. They have a couple guys that are their leaders, everyone does, but they try to be very balanced and they are effective that way, similar to the way we try to be,” said Reisman. “That makes them much more difficult to defend than a team that runs everything through one prolific scorer, because you have to defend well across the board.”
The balanced scoring isn’t the only thing that stands out about ASU, Reisman says.
“They rebound the basketball well, and they do it very well on the offensive end,” he said. “We can not continue to give them second chances. They are too good offensively to allow them extra opportunities to score points.”
Tarleton out-rebounds opponents by 11 boards per game on average, while ASU grabs 9.6 boards more than its foes.
And, as Reisman said, they are similar in their balance. Lone Star Conference scoring and rebounding leader EJ Reed averages 20 points and 9.1 rebounds and has a strong supporting cast. Charles Hill averages 13.8 per game, Michel Hardge 11.9 and Malcolm Hamilton 11.5 with two others averaging more than six.
Most impressive, Reisman says, is the job Cinco Boone has done in his first season as head coach at ASU. Boone was assistant coach under Drew Beard the last two seasons, and was promoted after Beard, the 2014-15 LSC and South Central Region Coach of the Year, left for a Division I position at Arkansas-Little Rock.
“I think a lot of people just assumed things wold go back to the way they used to be when Coach Beard and most their team left, but that has not been the case,” said Reisman. “He’s been able to plug in very good players and he runs a good, sound system that his team has belief in confidence in.”
Reisman says this is just the start of what he believes will be another banner year in LSC men’s basketball. Backing up the veteran coach is this week’s National Association of Basketball Coaches rankings featuring three LSC teams in the top 10, including No. 6 Midwestern State.
Seven of the eight teams in the LSC have winning records. The league combined for a 73-25 record before the start of LSC play.
“Last year I thought the Lone Star Conference was the best I had ever seen it,” said Reisman. “I look at it now, and could it really be better? I mean, could it really? But I think it is. I think it is even better, top to bottom. I think the parity is at an all-time high and that any team in this league can beat any other team on any given night in conference play.”
Note: Tarleton and Angelo State begin the LSC doubleheader with a women’s game at 5:30 p.m. Watch for a preview to come on The Flash.