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Toledo finding right mix of quality and quantity with 3-point shooting

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Marreon Jackson and UT lead the MAC in 3-point shooting percentage and 3-pointers made per game.

BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge

Tre’Shaun Fletcher likes to pull up after dribbling the ball up the court. Nate Navigato uses his 6-foot-8 frame and quick release to get his shot off. Marreon Jackson looks for space off passes from a teammate. Jaelan Sanford has range that extends well beyond the arc. Luke Knapke can strike off a pick-and-pop.

At almost every point in a game, no matter what combination of University of Toledo men’s basketball players are on the court, there are at least four, sometimes five, above-average 3-point shooters.

The skill, the unselfishness, the supreme confidence, and the constant hunt for the best shot have combined to make Toledo the top team in the Mid-American Conference in 3-point shooting percentage (41.7 percent) and 3-pointers made per game (10.2) — and has helped UT to a 4-1 start in conference play and a 12-6 overall record.

“We all can shoot and we all play unselfishly, so it does put a lot of pressure on the defense,” Navigato said. “When we move the ball it’s hard to guard.”

Toledo consistently has been near the top in the MAC in 3-point percentage in recent seasons. But when coach Tod Kowalczyk analyzed the team’s offensive numbers this offseason, he noticed the Rockets were not as dominant in 3s made simply because they didn’t shoot as many as other teams.

“If you look at our offensive numbers over the past four years, you can argue that they are the best in our conference and one of the best in the country,” Kowalczyk said. “What number was always lacking was that we were always seventh in our league in 3-pointers made, yet we were always one of the best percentages. I just felt it was important to make more 3s, and the only way to make more is to take more.”

Toledo is attempting 24.5 shots from 3-point range per game this season, and Kowalczyk thinks the volume of tries simply is playing to the abilities of the team.

As a comparison, the Rockets attempted 21.3 per game last season and 22.6 per game two years ago.

In the past two games, Toledo made 14 of its season-high 32 attempts Saturday in winning 93-82 at Central Michigan and followed with 13 makes in 22 attempts in a 91-57 blowout victory Tuesday at Ohio.

While Kowalczyk wants to increase the quantity of 3s taken, at the same time he doesn’t want the quality of shots to suffer.

“It’s because they take good shots,” Kowalczyk said of the good percentage. “We don’t want to take bad 3s, we want to take good shots. We’re making extra passes and we are getting into the lane, and if they help, we can kick it out.

“It’s a skilled basketball team that is playing to its strengths.”

Individually, Navigato leads the MAC with 3.1 made 3s per game and is second in the conference in 3-point percentage at 45.8 percent. His 55 made 3s are the most in the league.

“Practice makes permanent, and if you keep shooting and working on it in the gym then over time your shot is going to be there,” Navigato said. “You are going to trust it in the game and it’s going to fall more times than not.”

Jackson is third in the conference at 45.6 percent from outside, with 31 made 3s.

“We pride ourselves on our shooting,” Jackson said. “People get extra shots in after practice, and our coaches always preach the fundamentals. The fundamental shot is always the best shot.”

Fletcher shoots 39.0 percent from outside, and says the team pushes each other during shooting drills in practice.

“We shoot a lot, and it’s mostly guys getting in on their own,” Fletcher said. “I take a lot of pride in working on my game and perfecting my craft to the best of my ability. During the week we shoot a lot as a team, and me, Jaelan, Navi, and Marreon, we compete every day in the shooting drills.”

With such a good perimeter shooting team, Toledo is able to spread out opposing defenses and create more driving lanes.

“When you have guys on the floor that can shoot the ball, it just opens your spacing up,” Kowalczyk said. “When you have Luke Knapke on the floor, the defender has to come out to the 3-point line, which opens up more spacing for penetration.”

While the Rockets stress shooting in practice, Kowalczyk said the responsibility ultimately falls on the individual to put in the work necessary and get enough shots during the week.

“We don’t practice very long right now, but they get into the gym on their own and shoot,” Kowalczyk said. “That’s a big part of our culture.”

Contact Brian Buckey at: bbuckey@theblade.com419-724-6110, or on Twitter @BrianBuckey.

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