Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall wants his shooters shooting with a clear mind and no hesitation.
Once they've earned his trust, Marshall stays out of their way and is willing to endure a slump.
"If you start to be restrictive on a guy that you have seen shoot the basketball — and you know that that guy can shoot the basketball — there's going to be a doubt cast in that kid's mind during a big game with a big shot on the line," Marshall said. "We're all going to want him to make that shot at some point."
WSU is one of the Missouri Valley Conference's most prolific three-point shooting teams. The Shockers (20-4, 11-2 MVC), who play Southern Illinois (10-14, 4-9) tonight at Koch Arena, rank third in threes taken (483) and fourth in accuracy (36.6 percent). In 13 conference games, WSU ranks second (258) and sixth (34.1 percent).
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With that reliance on the three-point shot comes risks. There will be bad nights when fans scream for the ball to go into the big men. Shooters will go through dry spells. Marshall is willing to live through the ups and downs because he believes in the payoff.
"There's a possibility that we may take too many threes, but then again we win some big games when we shoot the ball well," he said.
The accuracy of several Shockers has declined during MVC play. Guard David Kyles missed all six of his threes against Indiana State and went 1 for 8 against Bradley in home games. He is shooting 29.6 percent in MVC games. J.T. Durley, Toure Murry and Joe Ragland are also shooting below 30 percent in conference play.
Marshall doesn't like to hit his shooters with a red light at the arc. He wants his players working on their shots and working on getting open. He doesn't want them to lose confidence or rhythm by turning down open shots. He wasn't crazy about Kyles taking a pull-up three-pointer on the break at Indiana State last week because the Shockers didn't have rebounders in position. However, Kyles made a similar shot against Tulsa in December.
"They know what a good shot is," Marshall said. "Take good shots."
Since missing seven threes against Bradley, Kyles is 4 for 8 in two games. For the season, he remains one of the MVC's best three-point shooters at 41.2 percent.
"If I feel like it's a shot that I can make, or it's a shot that I work on a lot, then I'm going to shoot it," Kyles said. "I'm glad he's put that confidence in me. Early in the year, it worked great."
Ragland's shooting problems confound Marshall. He is 17 of 57 (29.8 percent) from three-point range. Marshall loves the way his shot looks.
"They encourage me to shoot the ball, and shoot the ball like I know I can," Ragland said. "Coach Marshall does not tell you what to do. He lets you go. He'll get on you, get a fire under you. He knows what he's doing."
Marshall believes it's important to give his players opportunities to make plays within his motion offense. Beating them up over missed shots would be counterproductive.
That doesn't mean players can shoot away without conscience. Last week in practice, Marshall went over the shooting numbers. He told players he would consider revoking permits unless the stats improve. Several Shockers responded by sticking around for extra shooting practice.
"I don't want it to get to that point," he said. "My players are allowed to play with a certain freedom, as long as they don't abuse it."
Players such as Murry and Durley know how it works. Murry has cut back on his threes since MVC play started and is 1 for 4 in the past four games. Durley didn't take a three in Saturday's game against Illinois State and has taken more than one once in his past five games.
Center Garrett Stutz is a 7-footer who doesn't fit the profile as an outside shooter. Saturday, he made 1 of 2 against Illinois State. His three-pointer beat LSU in the final seconds in December. True to the Marshall philosophy, Stutz feels permitted to take threes in the right situation.
"Coach trusts us enough that we know good shots from bad shots," Stutz said. "My first couple years, we didn't know a good shot from a bad shot. Until somebody screws that up, I think Coach is going to continue to let us shoot them. We know we're good shooters, and we're going to stick with it."