Wright State basketball: Pushing back 3-point line hasn’t hurt Raiders

Wright State’s Cole Gentry puts up a 3-pointer against Southern at the Nutter Center on Dec. 12, 2019. Joseph Craven/WSU Athletics
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Wright State’s Cole Gentry puts up a 3-pointer against Southern at the Nutter Center on Dec. 12, 2019. Joseph Craven/WSU Athletics

Cole Gentry’s best asset might be his 3-point shooting. He’s hitting 40.7%, which is on pace for the best mark for a full-time starter at Wright State since Grant Benzinger’s 41.9 clip in 2016-17.

But Gentry knows he wouldn’t be thriving outside the arc if other Raiders weren’t so adept at scoring inside it.

“I give a lot of credit to my teammates. (They) draw all the attention, and we’re getting a lot more open shots this year,” the senior point guard said. “As a team, we’re making a lot more 3’s just because we’re getting better shots than in years past.”

Gentry and his cohorts are flourishing while most college basketball teams are careening in the opposite direction. The 3-point line was pushed back this season from 20 feet, 9 inches to the international distance of 22-1¾, and it’s had a noticeable impact.

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The shooting percentage for all Division-I teams is 33.1. The worst previous mark in the 29-year history of the 3-pointer is 33.9.

The Raiders’ rate has gone up from 34.4 last season to 34.9, which is 97th nationally. Gentry has improved by nearly five percentage points, while senior wing Bill Wampler has jumped from 36.4 to 39.6.

The national average has been hovering around 35% for several years, and part of the reason the Raiders haven’t seen a drop is because of positive reinforcement from coach Scott Nagy.

Asked about his approach on 3’s, he said: “When you have good shooters, you want them to have freedom. You don’t want them to second-guess or be thinking, ‘What would Coach think about this shot?’ You want them to play with a high level of confidence.”

“My goal is that our whole team would shoot 40%. That’s not easy to do. If one player is shooting 40%, they say he’s a good shooter. But if we can surround our centers with good shooters, we can put a lot of pressure on defenses. Moving the 3-point line back opens it up even more if you shoot it well.”

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The Raiders’ versatility on offense has helped them average 81.3 points per game, which is eight more than last season and 15th in the country.

“That’s not necessarily the goal, but we want to play faster because we’re deeper and we get better shots when we have good pace,” Nagy said. “When we get bogged down in a half-court game, sometimes it doesn’t go very well for us.

“Really, the best time to shoot 3’s is in transition when your body is moving forward and you can run into good shots. A lot of teams don’t work on transition defense like we do. After a turnover or a rebound, it’s hard to defend 5 on 5.”

Their offense could be even more prolific, though, if foul shooting wasn’t holding them back.

They’re hitting only 66.6%, which is 279th out of 351 teams. Gentry is 33 of 36 for 91.7%, but junior center Loudon Love is at 48.7% after shooting 54.1 and 62.5 his first two seasons, and freshman Tanner Holden is at 58.7.

“If you’re a good shooter, you generally shoot well from there,” Nagy said. “You look at Loudon, and he’s never taken a jump shot in his career. He shot (free throws) better last year. He’s probably going through some mental struggles with it. Nobody wants them to go in more than him. Probably the best thing for him to do is just relax.”

Though Gentry, who shot 90.2% last season, might be a good resource for some of the struggling players, he said his teammates want to be left alone.

“Everyone has their own routine. You don’t necessarily want to copy someone else’s routine when you’ve been doing something one way your whole life. I think getting in the gym and getting extra shots is the biggest thing to do,” he said.

THURSDAY’S GAME

Cleveland State at Wright State, 7 p.m., ESPN+, 106.5