STILLWATER — Travis Ford arrived at Oklahoma State with a rich reputation as a run-and-gun coach with a propensity for piling up points.
Now, however, Ford's team has the look and feel of something totally opposite, emphasizing a defensive mentality responsible for the Cowboys' rise into the Top 25.
So, has Ford changed his stripes? Or was the push-the-ball personality all just a misperception?
Neither. And both.
“Coming out of UMass, we were,” Ford said of the up-tempo style he utilized at his previous coaching stop. “We probably led the country in possessions, scored 80-somethihng points a game. The assumption was right. But that was the makeup of that basketball team.”
In his four seasons at OSU, the fit has generally been different, although the Cowboys pushed the pace a bit in his debut season. With his current team, which needs big man Philip Jurick on the floor to offer a post presence to an otherwise smallish squad, Ford recognizes he has a group that can clamp down defensively.
And they have, ranking second in the Big 12 and 12th nationally in field-goal percentage defense, holding eight teams to 35.4 percent shooting in a 7-1 start entering Sunday's 3 p.m. home game against Central Arkansas.
“As a coach, I've always tried to adapt to my personnel,” Ford said, “what I have and what's going to be the strength of the team. We'd like to run a little bit more, and have planned it.
“But we're playing a more conventional style lineup right now. With (Michael) Cobbins, Jurick and (Kamari) Murphy in there, we're not running quite as much. But I would like to run more that we are right now.”
But not at the expense of strong defense, which this team is producing with consistency.
Only one team has managed to score more than 65 points against the Cowboys, with Virginia Tech going for 81 in handing OSU its lone loss.
Since then, the Cowboys have held five straight foes below 60 points — and the past two under 50.
The last year an OSU team held three straight below 50: Henry Iba's squad in 1963.
The Cowboys also have produced 50 steals, 41 blocked shots and managed to own a rebounding edge, despite their supposed lack of size, getting major contributions on the boards from their guards, including Marcus Smart, who at 6-foot-4 leads the team at 7.4 rebounds a game.
Smart, while just a freshman, also has delivered a defensive work ethic and toughness that seems to be contagious up and down the roster.
“Coming from my high school, that's what we took pride in,” Smart said. “We were the No. 1-ranked defensive team in the country my sophomore, junior and senior year, so we kind of prided ourselves on defense.
“I was always taught that defense wins you games. I brought that with me, and the guys reacted to it in a positive way, not a negative way. And they follow into that whole (thought) of defense wins games. That's been our big thing. We're going to make sure you don't score on us and we're going to try to shut you down on offense.”
And that offensive mindset attached to Ford in his early years? OSU's practices are heavily concentrated on defense.
“We start practice with defense,” Smart said. “And we end with it.”
And in between, more defense.
“You can work on your offensive game and defensive game at the same time,” Cobbins said. “But besides about 20 minutes, the rest of our practice is going to be focused on defensive things.”
And, Cobbins said, that's OK.
“This year, I think the difference is that everybody is buying in to the defense that Coach Ford and all the coaches are harping on in practice,” Cobbins said. “Everyone is buying in and they're seeing that it works. So it's something we're relying on.
“I think everybody is seeing that, how defense wins. I like where it's going.”
The Cowboys should only improve defensively, with Cobbins still working his way back from a fractured toe that sidelined him a month and Brian Williams — considered the team's best overall defender — expected to return from a serious wrist injury sometime in late January or early February.
OSU, once known for defense, is building such a reputation again.
“There's not another feeling like going against someone, especially another great player that people are talking about,” Smart said, “and you just shut him down. He's not capable of doing the things he would do while you're guarding him.
“That's a great feeling.”
No. 24 Oklahoma State vs. Central Arkansas
* When: 3 p.m. Sunday
* Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater
* TV: FSOK (Cox 37/HD 722; Dish 416; DirecTV 676; U-Verse 753/HD 1753))
* Radio: KXXY-FM 96.1
Three things to know
* The Bears are coached by former Arkansas and NBA standout Corliss Williamson, in his third season at the school.
* Williamson is showing his Razorbacks roots, pushing the ball with a team that averages 80.1 points per game.
* The Cowboys are the only team in the Big 12 with three players in the top 15 in scoring and rebounding.