Both Tarleton State basketball teams have coasted through the early phase of their 2009-10 schedules, but around campus there is a sense the season really begins tonight.
The TexAnns (5-0) and Texans (4-0) welcome Central Oklahoma to Wisdom Gym on opening night of Lone Star Conference crossover play. The women tip off at 6 p.m., followed by the men at approximately 8 p.m.
Both games give the Tarleton teams an opportunity to avenge season-ending losses suffered at the LSC Championship tournament last spring, but more than that, they offer both the Texans and TexAnns the chance to send a message to everyone in the LSC.
“When you start playing (LSC) games it’s just different than playing (UT) Permian Basin or St. Edward’s,” Tarleton women’s coach Ronnie Hearne said. “After we played St. Edward’s (Saturday) I met with the girls in the locker room and all I said is, ‘I think you know who we have next,’ and of course they did.”
Tarleton men’s coach Lonn Reisman agrees, this is the time of the year when everyone seems to realize basketball season has officially arrived.
“The deeper you get into the season, and when you start playing (LSC) crossover games, it seems like it’s for real now,” Reisman said.
So far, the TexAnns have won their games by an average margin of 41 points, the Texans by 20.5. But both coaches believe their teams will be seriously tested for the first time tonight.
Hearne thought the women’s team would be tested by Pittsburg State in the Pioneer Premier in Denton, but the TexAnns ran away late.
“I thought that would be a big test, and for about three-quarters of the game it was, but then we pulled away from them,” said Hearne, whose club won that game 75-46. “I know Pittsburg State beat Central Oklahoma right before we played them, but (UCO) has won three straight since then and is playing good basketball.”
The Tarleton men have had some closer games, but never one where it seemed the Texans were in danger of losing. Southeastern Oklahoma overcame a big deficit to pull within seven in the closing minutes of a Texan Tip off Classic contest, but back-to-back three-balls by Tarleton ended any doubt concerning the outcome.
Dallas Baptist, which went 23-6 and reached the regional semifinals last year, kept the season opener respectable, but the Tarleton lead was never less than nine in the second half.
Central Oklahoma, however, offers a much bigger challenge.
“No doubt about it - they are every bit as good as they have been the last couple years,” Reisman said. “They have a lot of weapons and I expect them to challenge for the title in the (LSC) North.”
The Bronchos (2-2), who have four players averaging in double figures in the scoring column, are already battle tested. They beat Emporia State twice, including once in double overtime, and have lost two close games - by six against Rockhurst and four at Missouri Western.
On the women’s side, UCO (3-1) is just as tested, having lost by one at Pittsburg State before winning by five and by three against Oklahoma Baptist and Oklahoma City. They blew out Oklahoma Science and Arts by 23 in their most recent game. The Broncho women have three players averaging in double figures and five who score six or more points per game.
Not to be outdone, the Tarleton teams also feature balanced scoring. The TexAnns have eight players averaging between seven and 13 points per game, while the Texans have six averaging between six and 17 points.
There is also a revenge factor in effect for both Tarleton teams - especially the men.
The Texans led by as many as 15 points in the second half of the 2008 South Central Region championship game at Wisdom Gym, before UCO came back and hit a three-point shot with four seconds remaining to win 77-76. The Bronchos then ended Tarleton’s season by the same score in overtime of the 2008 LSC Championship quarterfinals.
On the women’s side, the TexAnns saw their 2008-09 season end in a 66-63 loss to UCO, also in the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament.
“When you’ve played a team close but haven’t beat them, it drives you that much harder,” Hearne said. “Especially when you realize you’re a lot better than when you played them last.”
Reisman, who doubles as athletics director at Tarleton, is eagerly anticipating the arrival of what is expected to be a big Wisdom Gym crowd.
“I think everyone on campus and around the Stephenville community is very aware of how good this rivalry has become,” he said. “Both our teams have had some classic battles against Central Oklahoma the last few years and (tonight) should be no different. We expect a big crowd for both games and a great atmosphere for a night of good basketball.”