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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ragland has become Wichita State’s shooting star

By Paul Suellentrop
The Wichita Eagle

Perhaps it escapes wide notice, because of Wichita State’s balance and unselfish style. It should be noticed that guard Joe Ragland is wrapping up the greatest shooting season in Shocker history.

We will define a shooter as someone who uses all the court, from the rim to the three-point line. We can debate the virtues of Vince Smith or Jamie Thompson, Dave Stallworth and Antoine Carr, Aubrey Sherrod and Jason Perez.

Fine Shocker shooters, all.

While those players, and others, scored more prolifically, none of them mixed Ragland’s ability to shoot from long range with history-making accuracy.

“It’s just confidence,” Ragland said. “Last year, I told everybody I was a good shooter. Percentage-wise, it didn’t show. I learned so much from my mistakes last year and I worked so hard this summer.”

Ragland’s hard work is on display for the last time in Koch Arena Saturday against Drake (16-13, 9-8 Missouri Valley Conference). He sat out Friday’s practice with a headache and cold, but said he expects to play today for No. 19 WSU (25-4, 15-2). The Shockers claimed the MVC title outright on Wednesday. Five seniors, including Ragland, will be honored before the game.

If the season ended today, Ragland’s three-pointer accuracy of 48.1 percent would rank first among Shockers with 100 or more attempts in a season and third overall. His overall shooting percentage rises to a level occupied only by big men who pad their stats in the lane. Ragland is shooting 56.4 percent from the field, just outside WSU’s top 14 season list, a list devoid of guards.

Ragland, from West Springfield, Mass., scores with more efficiency this season from more places than any other Shocker.

“He’s worked hours on his game,” coach Gregg Marshall said. “He’s a basketball nut.”

Ragland averages 13.7 points and it is his diverse ways of scoring that set him apart. He can make threes spotting up or coming off screens. His quickness allows him to drive past defenders and he is strong enough, at 6-foot, 185 pounds, to score even when bumped close to the basket. His mid-range jumper is accurate, as well. Equally important, he rarely takes bad shots, allowing him to compile efficiency numbers that rank with any player in the nation. Not to be forgotten are free throws — Ragland makes 83.5 percent of them.

“He knows what his shots are, and how to get them off,” teammate David Kyles said. “It makes it hard to guard him, especially because he can blow by them. He’s difficult to defend, and he knows it.”

He made 8 of 9 three-pointers to score 31 points against UNLV. He scored 19 against Northern Iowa, making 7 of 9 shots and followed that game by hitting Creighton for 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting. His tour de force came a week ago — 30 points on 14 shots (11 made) at Davidson.

Those performances are why MVC coaches discuss him as a Player of the Year candidate and a sure All-MVC selection.

“The problem is, he’s not just good at one thing,” Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich said. “He’s a great shooter and he’s a heck of a passer and penetrator. He’s in a great flow right now.”

That flow eluded Ragland as a junior transfer from North Platte (Neb.) Community College last season. He averaged 7.0 points, shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from the line.

“I said last year ‘He’s a good shooter,’” Marshall said. “I saw him every day in practice, and he’s a very, very good shooter.”

It took Ragland that season to fully adjust to major college basketball. He learned how to run the offense how Marshall wanted. He learned to take better shots and avoid charging fouls that sometimes limited his playing time. His defense improved.

Ragland got in better shape over the summer and the added quickness helps him dribble past defenders. He is also a better driver because he learned to change speeds to throw off the defense.

“Last year, I was just fast,” he said. “This year, I’m working on changing speeds, which allows me to get in the paint more.”

Ragland knows his efficiency is created by the larger efficiency of his teammates. Center Garrett Stutz helps him by passing out of double teams. Guards Toure Murry and Demetric Williams lighten his ball-handling load and get him open shots with their penetration.

“It helps me dramatically,” Ragland said. “There are three point guards at all times out there. That’s why a lot of times I’m in the scoring mentality, because of those guys that are getting in the lane and finding me.”

Senior day — WSU will honor the seniors at 12:19 today, approximately 20 minutes before tip-off.

Stutz, Murry, Ragland, Kyles and Ben Smith make up WSU’s senior class. Marshall said he will stick with his regular lineup and bring Kyles off the bench.

He doesn’t need to address the hoopla surrounding today’s game with his team.

“I just say look, ‘We’ve got a game to play, that’s what’s important right now,’” Marshallsaid. “We’ve got to win the game.”

Check Paul Suellentrop’s Shocker blog at blogs.kansas.com/shockwaves. Reach him at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com.

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