Retirees Association

DDN: Getting defensive has served Raiders well

Excerpt from the Dayton Daily News

One of the few questions surrounding the Wright State Raiders is how they’re going to replace Grant Benzinger — not his point production, though he was the team’s leading scorer last season, but his infectious energy.

He’s maybe the only player ever implored by coach Scott Nagy NOT to dive on the floor so much because he was putting himself at risk of injury.

Mark Hughes would seem the most likely candidate to lead the way for the Raiders this season. He’s a returning senior starter who has played in plenty of big games. He has an outgoing personality. And he values defense as much as offense, which is a surefire way to win over teammates and coaches.

“I definitely need to step into a leadership role, especially losing Benz, who was a great leader and kept us together the whole season,” Hughes said. “I’m going to try to step into his shoes and, hopefully, get some help from Parker (Ernsthausen) and the other seniors.”

But players tend to follow those who are highly productive on the court, and the 6-foot-4 guard, while an efficient scorer, has been a reluctant shooter. He averaged 9.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and a team-best 3.0 assists last season. But he took only 7.7 shots per game, roughly the same as freshman back-up Jaylon Hall.

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“The biggest thing I worked on this summer, along with ball-handling, is shooting,” Hughes said. “I feel like I’m shooting the ball at a high level right now.”

That doesn’t mean he’s necessarily looking to become a primary scorer.

“I try to let the game come to me,” he said. “If I give energy on defense, that’s going to give me more momentum offensively and help us work better as a team offensively — because we definitely have to pick up some scoring this year.”

Hughes, who has gained 35 pounds since his freshman year and now weighs 205, is an athletic leaper and can shoot with range. And while he’s starting to become more aggressive on offense in practice, Nagy wants to see more.

“He’s still not quite as assertive as I’d like him to be,” Nagy said. “But he plays with a lot of confidence. He’s never sped up. He doesn’t turn it over much. He has one of our better assist-turnover ratios. He shoots a good percentage. And he’s experienced. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t average double-figures for us.”

Hughes made the Horizon League all-defensive team last season, and he’s a preseason second-team all-conference pick. That’s changed how he sees himself.

“It feels pretty good to be recognized as one of the better players in the league. It gives me confidence that other people see me as a good player,” he said.

Hughes’ passion for defense made him difficult to take off the floor — he was second behind Benzinger in minutes per game at 31.5 — and helped the Raiders become one of the toughest teams to score on last season.

They were 12th in the nation (out of 351 Division-I schools) in defensive efficiency, giving up just 0.929 points per possession.

They were 245th in offensive efficiency at .988.

“For us, it’s defense all the time. We were very good last year and we feel like we should be better,” Nagy said. “Right now, we’re not anywhere close to that. That’s what I’m pressing on with the players. My wife says I complain about the same things at this time every year, and I have a hard time remembering that. But we hope to get better defensively.

“We expect to be better offensively. We were pretty average last year. We hope that’s where we can make a big jump.”