Tarleton State has built its reputation as a Division II force in basketball on the shoulders of its trademark Lonn Reisman man-to-man defense. Year-in, year-out the Texans are among the national leaders in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense.
And now that the No. 14 Texans (7-0) are scoring points like never before - they average 96.6 per game early this season - they remain built the same way.
"It's still our defense," said Reisman Friday morning. "People can look and say, oh they've finally opened it up at Tarleton. They're finally running and gunning and trying to be like everybody else. We've made one tweak to our break offensively, and it is allowing us to score more in transition, but it's still all about our defense."
A slightly altered defense, that is.
Reisman says his coaching staff has installed an NBA-style rotation system into the Texans' man defense.
"We are rotating and helping defensively the way NBA teams do, and it was difficult to teach at first. But as we've continued working on it, the guys have figured it out, we're rotating and helping better than ever before, and it enables us to continue to play great defense while being able to get out on the break more offensively."
The "primary" break, as he calls it in coach speak, as opposed to the "secondary" break the Texans ran in prior seasons.
"If we don't score off our secondary break, it take us longer to get into our offense," said Reisman, whose clubs prior to this season would routinely work their offense until the final seconds of the shot clock in search of the best shot. "But with the offensive talent on this team, we want to take advantage of our speed and quickness, so we're running our primary break."
Reisman says the primary break puts the offense on the shoulders of senior point guard Chuck Guy.
"We want the ball in his hands, hopefully where he can attack the basket," Reisman said. "When he can do that, he has a great ability to score the basketball or kick it out for a good looking outside shot.
It's a big reason Guy averages 17.1 points and 6.7 assists, and a big reason the Texans are hitting 43.5 percent from the arc. De'Andre Upchurch is scoring 14.7 per game, Mohammed Lee 10.7 and Davene Carter 10.3. Tashawn Mabry averages 9.8 and Emmanuel Andrews 8.7.
Reisman is also pleased with the adjustments his coaches and team have made in reaction to the NCAA's new hand-check rule.
"With the new rule, we're seeing a lot more fouls because you used to be able to use one hand to kind of get a feel of your opponent. There's no more of that now, which is a big advantage to the offense. They're trying to make the games more high scoring," Reisman explained. "So we took advantage of that. Our defensive rotation system helps us to play good defense without being called for hand-checking all night, and our ability to drive and score the basketball helps us draw a lot of fouls on the other end."
But more than anything, Reisman attributes the Texans' newfound offensive octane - they have scored 75 or more points in seven straight games for the first time in 16 years - and their first 7-0 start in his 26 years to the players themselves.
"You can put in all the wrinkles and new plays you want, you can make all the adjustments you want, but you can't replace talent," Reisman said. "I believe this team has more players with the ability to score the basketball and more depth than any team I've coached here."
And that's saying a lot for a coach who has won 537 games at the school, claimed two South Central Region Championships and been all the way to the final four.
The Texans are currently idle until the end of finals. They meet their third in-region opponent when they host McMurry at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 17.
"McMurry has played a tough schedule, and I think they'll be the best or one of the best teams we've seen so far," said Reisman. "It will be a good challenge for us before we go to Las Vegas."
That's where the Texans could be truly tested for the first time. It will be their first games away from the friendly confines of Wisdom Gym - where Reisman has picked up 351 of his wins - when they take on Central Washington on Dec. 21 and No. 5 Western Washington on Dec. 22. Western Washington edged previous No. 1 Metropolitan State - which eliminated Tarleton at last year's regional - 72-69 last weekend.
"There are some big tests ahead," Reisman said. "I like what we have with this group, but we'll all know a lot more about where we're at and what we need to do by Christmas."