FAIRBORN — Wright State has climbed to third in the nation in field-goal percentage, connecting at its best clip in 30 years. But a lack of interest in shooting 3′s had been leaving an impression the offense wasn’t operating at peak capacity.
Since a lineup change six games ago, the Raiders have shown they can still beat teams by pommeling them inside, but they also have perimeter players that foes dare not leave open.
Guards Alex Huibregtse and Andrew Welage are the team’s two best long-range shooters, and they’ve led a late-season resurgence that’s made the team a realistic contender for the Horizon League tourney title again.
The Raiders were 11-10 when they made the change and are 5-1 since then — and the lone loss was a triple-overtime affair at Youngstown State.
“Sometimes you search, and it’s not like we knew exactly what we were doing. But we have enough experience to know sometimes it can help guys. It’s worked out for us,” coach Scott Nagy said.
Not that it was easy. Sitting Amari Davis, a preseason second-team all-league pick, has been agonizing for the coach, but he’s ecstatic over the positive results.
The Raiders averaged 79.5 points in their first 21 games and 87.8 in their last six.
Their 3-point totals have gone from 5.6 to 6.5 per game, while their shooting has inched up from 35.5% to 36.5.
But those meager jumps from the arc don’t tell the whole story.
The threat of Huibregtse, Welage and star guard Trey Calvin letting it fly has forced teams to extend their defense, creating more room for everyone.
Welage is shooting 46.9% from 3, Huibregtse 40.7 and Calvin 35.8.
“To be able to play Alex and Andrew out on the floor, it’s just a different dynamic to our offense because it’s two really good shooters,” Nagy said. “It spreads the defense and allows us to throw the ball in a little more.
“If you’re playing Trey and Amari and Tim (Finke) together — which we did a lot — it’s a lot of mid-range jump shots. Teams are tighter (defensively), and it’s hard to get good shots.”
Nagy made another dramatic change in 2020-21, going big with forward Grant Basile becoming a starter with center Loudon Love.
The Raiders were a middling 7-3 when he made the move, but they went 11-2 after that and won the HL regular-season title.
The bold maneuver this year has unleashed redshirt freshman forward Brandon Noel, who shook off a mini-slump to average 15.3 points the last three games, going 17 of 26 from the field and 12 of 12 on foul shots.
“When we went on the road up to Wisconsin (Jan. 26-28), he averaged 26½ points and 15 rebounds. And I think it freaked him out. It scared him — like, oh my goodness, they’re going to start counting on me. I don’t know if he was ready for that,” Nagy said.
“He had a four-game stretch where he was a little bit spooked. But he’s really settled down again and is playing fantastic.”
The 6-foot-8 Noel is first in the league and 20th nationally in field-goal shooting at 61.3%. He’s helped the Raiders shoot a glittering 50.3%, a mark bettered by only Gonzaga (52.0) and Colgate (50.6).
“He’s probably the best athlete out on the floor, and most people don’t understand that. We feel he’s the top freshman in the league,” Nagy said, before adding:
“It’s a little bit like he’d be a super-super freshman since he’s been in school three years. But he’s doing a great job for us and giving us a lot of versatility.”
Sub center A.J. Braun also seems to have regained his mojo since coming off the bench, averaging 12.3 points the last six games to bump his average to 10.0, third on the team.
He’s hiked his shooting percentage to 63.5. He doesn’t have enough attempts to qualify for league or national stats, but the program record of 64.2% might be within range. Mike Nahar set it in 1992-93.
Wright State at Cleveland State, 7 p.m., ESPNU, 980