Over the last eight games, the Mountaineers (6-11 overall and 2-2 in the Northeast Conference) connected on 47.9 percent (218-of-455) of their shots and 42.5 percent (79-of-186) of their three-point attempts. Those numbers are a sizable difference from their 39.7 percent (209-of-527) from the floor and 31.0 percent (76-of-245) on three-point tries in the team’s first nine contests.
Coach Jamion Christian said part of the reason for the more efficient offensive numbers can be traced to the return to health for senior guard Sam Prescott and Rashad Whack, both of whom battled injuries during the summer.
“You don’t not play for four or five months and then just pick it up and be ready to go,” Christian said Tuesday. “So I think it’s taken those guys some time, but I’m glad they’ve worked their way through it. Two of our top three-point shooters are [forward] Will Miller and [guard] Byron Ashe, a couple freshmen. Usually when you look at freshmen numbers, after about 10 games, they start to play how they’re capable of playing if you bring them along the right way, and I think we have.
"I think that’s why they’ve really shot the ball well over the last six or seven games. Those four guys are really shooting the ball well from the outside, and they take a large percentage of threes for us.”
Christian said the coaching staff has figured out a somewhat complicated formula for success that includes encouraging the players to hoist 25 3-pointers per game. That number might give some coaches pause, but Christian said he wants the players to know that they can play freely and with the coaches’ backing.
“I think this game is all about confidence,” he said. “We’re going to recruit guys who can make outside shots, guys who can play fast. It’s just my philosophy that guys play better when it’s a looser environment, when you’re giving them extreme confidence.
"And the biggest thing for us to do as a coaching staff is I’ve got to make sure that I’m putting the guys in position where they can make shots. I think the 42 percent over the last eight games shows that we’re putting our guys in the right position to make shots. If we can continue to do that, we’re going to be good.”
But Christian pointed out that long-range shots from the perimeter can only work if there is enough of an inside presence or dribble-drives to force defenses to stay honest.
“What we talk most about is trying to have an efficient offense,” he said. “To take outside shots at a high rate, you really need to be getting what we call paint touches – penetrations to the basket and making the defense respect your ability to score at the rim.
"[Senior guard] Julian Norfleet is one of the best I’ve seen this season at being able to get to the front of the rim for his shots. With that being said, his ability to make defenses collapse and his ability to pass is huge. Our unselfishness as a team has been really good. You see those numbers in our shooting percentages. When guys are open, we’re getting them the ball in positions where they can make it.”