Wright State Raiders: Defensive-minded Hughes picking it up on offense

Most college players have to be exhorted, coerced and practically threatened to have their meal money taken away before they become fully committed to defense.

Mark Hughes is different. The Wright State senior is more comfortable trying to stop someone than he is playing offense, though he’s been urged to hoist shots at will.

Against Detroit on Saturday, he was assigned to Antoine Davis most of the game and was the main reason the freshman star managed only 17 points, about 10 below his average.

»RELATED: Motivated WSU stops Detroit Mercy, freshman star

The 6-foot-1 Davis had trouble even getting shots off against the 6-4 Hughes. He went 7 of 18 from the field, including an airball, and 2 of 10 on 3-pointers.

“Mark is a tremendous defender,” coach Scott Nagy said. “We know, obviously, Davis tore us up last time (scoring 48 points). It can be frustrating guarding him because you can do everything correctly, and he can still make that shot. A guy who has that much freedom, he’s going to take some tough shots, and some are going to go in.”

Davis is a high-volume shooter, to put it mildly. He’s taken 526 shots, the most in the nation. His average of 21.9 per game is more than the top two shot-takers in the Raiders’ starting lineup combined, Loudon Love (12.1) and Cole Gentry (9.4).

But he didn’t get much breathing room against Hughes, who made the Horizon League all-defensive team last season.

“I just really tried to crowd him and take away his space. He’s really shifty and good with the ball. Taking his air space so he didn’t have much room for pull-ups was the main focus,” Hughes said.

»ARCHDEACON: Wright State freshman trending up

Nagy, though, wants to see that kind of commitment from Hughes on the offensive end, which has been an ongoing battle.

“Sometimes I can’t get Mark to shoot the ball at all,” he said. “He’s always been up and down in terms of how aggressive he is offensively. He was a big scorer in high school. I’ve always wanted more from him offensively.”

Though it may be premature to say Hughes is changing, his confidence appears to be at an all-time high.

He went through a prolonged slump over five-plus games, missing 23 straight 3-pointers. But he snapped the skid with a trey just eight seconds into the second half against Oakland on Thursday, and he’s been connecting at a high rate since then.

He’s gone 6 for 10 beyond the arc in his last two games, hiking his percentage from 31.3 to 33.6.

“It’s always good when you’re in a slump to see that first shot go in. I definitely gained some confidence,” said Hughes, who has been getting extra shots up on his own.

“Putting in a little more time and getting it back on form was really important for me. I’m starting to shoot the ball a lot better. I’m just going to stay in the gym.”

He knows he always has the green light on offense from Nagy.

“He gives me little pieces of encouragement now and then,” Hughes said. “He understands shooting slumps because he played the game of basketball before. He told me to keep shooting and they’ll fall eventually.”

Hughes, who averaged 24 points at Youngstown Ursuline, has never scored more than 17 in a game at Wright State. He’s averaged a modest 9.7 and 9.8 in his two years as a starter.

But he sounds like a player ready to become a primary scorer.

“Me missing a couple shots — for however many games it was — didn’t really bother me because I know I put in the work, and I know I’m a great shooter,” he said.

That’s exactly what his fellow Raiders want to hear.

“It’s good to see him shooting again,” center Loudon Love said. “We need that thing flying.”

Friday’s game

Northern Kentucky (20-6, 10-3) at Wright State (15-11, 9-4), 9 p.m., ESPNU, 106.5-FM

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