- Doug Harris Contributing Writer
Wright State coach Scott Nagy had hoped Mark Hughes would turn into an offensive force this year because the Raiders have so few natural scorers.
But the 6-foot-3 junior wing seems more comfortable being a complementary player than a primary scorer. And given how well he performed in that role during the Wright State tournament last weekend, the Raiders will happily take that version of Hughes the rest of the season.
He scored 12, 14 and five points in the three wins while playing lock-down defense. And he didn’t need many shots to reach those totals, going a combined 11-for-16 from the field and 6-for-9 on 3-pointers.
“I think if you’re going to use one word for Mark, it’s efficient,” Nagy said. “He’s a tremendous defender. We have a chance to be a much better defensive team this year than we were last year. Now, we’re probably not as explosive offensively, but we should be good defensively, and Mark is at the head of that.”
Hughes’ willingness to play both ends of the court was critical in a 57-56 win over Fairfield as Wright State completed a three-game sweep in the event Sunday. He defended the Stags’ Tyler Nelson, who had 54 points in the team’s opening two games but just six against the Raiders.
“Mark was tremendous defensively, which was the biggest thing. He scored five points, but I’d rather him score five points and play defense like he played,” Nagy said.
“Nelson is an MVP-type candidate in their league (the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference), and Mark did a tremendous job on him. It’s not just Mark. There’s a lot of team defense involved, but Mark really frustrated him.”
Hughes showed his potential to be a dynamic player against Fairfield when he blew by a defender and threw down a thunderous dunk in traffic. Few knew he had that kind of leaping ability, and it jolted the crowd — and his teammates on the bench — out of their seats.
But while Hughes won’t always be that spectacular, the Raiders (4-3) can count on him for steady production.
He’s increased his average to 10.1 points after scoring 3.5 and 3.2 his first two years. And he leads the team in field-goal shooting among those with at least 15 attempts at 50 percent, and he’s first in 3-point accuracy at 40.6.
“Really, I try not to force anything — not take bad shots and let the game come to me,” Hughes said. “Honestly, I’ve been focusing more on my defense because I know the offense will come eventually. And we really need to be good defensively — me, especially, being a wing defender.”
The Raiders, who visit surging Western Kentucky on Saturday, have made drastic improvements across the board defensively since losing, 84-80, in the opener at Loyola and stumbling to a 1-3 start.
Among 351 Division I teams, they’re 31st in scoring defense (61.9 per game), 55th in total steals (50), 63rd in turnovers forced (16.6 per game) and 130th in field-goal percentage defense (41.7).
The Wright State coaches prefer to measure defensive efficiency in points allowed per possession, and the Raiders are 48th nationally at .90.
“We want that to be our identity this year and it wasn’t the first four games,” senior wing Grant Benzinger said. “(The Wright State tourney) was the first time we played the defense we’re capable of, and we want to continue to do that.
“I think we’re really talking about it more, watching film and emphasizing it more. We’ve just bought into it now. We know defense wins games, and hopefully we keep this going.”