By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Austin Wright’s favorite shooting spots on the basketball court are neatly arranged in an arc 20 feet, 6 inches from the center of the goal.
“The 3-point line, just anywhere, the 3-point line in general,” he said with a laugh.
Missouri Southern fans first saw Wright’s accurate long-range shooting when he was part of the winning team on the around-the-world contest during Meet the Lions.
A shooting slump and early season ankle injury hampered Wright during the first third of the season, but he caught fire last Saturday night at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center, drilling 5-of-8 shots from 3-point range in Missouri Southern’s 95-69 victory over Missouri Southern.
“I’d been struggling,” Wright said. “I guess it’s a lack of confidence. That’s the only thing. ... I’ve been working on my shot.”
Entering to combat the Griffons’ zone defense, Wright hit his first attempt from the right corner. He missed his next shot, but then hit a 3 from the corner and another from the right wing to help the Lions erase an early four-point deficit.
“It was a huge lift,” Lions coach Robert Corn said. “The first three possessions that we had, we weren’t very good against the zone. That’s why we called the quick timeout and told them we can’t play like this and expect to win the game. From that point on, I felt we became a little more aggressive. Austin came in and started making shots, then Marquis (Addison) started making shots (including four treys in the last five minutes of the first half). Then there were a lot of gaps against the zone.”
The Lions tied their school record with 15 treys. They shot 58 percent overall from the floor, 63 percent from 3-point range and placed five players in double figures for the first time this season.
“We got more points probably off the bench (36) than we did all year combined,” Corn said. “I thought our bench was great. When all those guys came in, they gave us a spark. When that happens, you have a chance to grow as a team.”
Wright finished with 19 points, hitting 7-of-11 shots after being just 1-of-10 for the season. He averaged 12.6 points and hit 41 percent from beyond the arc last season at Bixby High School, and at 6-foot-1, 163 pounds, it’s easy to see Wright’s biggest adjustment to college ball.
“The big adjustment is it’s a lot more physical and everything is faster and faster-paced,” he said. “And as you can see, I’m not a very big guy. I’m a shooter, so I just had to get used to that.”
He’s also adjusting to reduced playing time.
“It’s tough, but at the same time, I cheer my team,” he said. “It’s about the team. It’s not about me. So if our team is doing well without me, more power to them.”
The Lions, one of five teams with one conference loss, begin a two-game road trip tonight at Lindenwood in St. Charles.
Lindenwood’s Lions (8-3) are 1-2 to start their first MIAA season, but not that far from being 3-0. Their losses have come in overtime against league-leading Northwest Missouri and double overtime against Pittsburg State.
“They are a good basketball team with good guards and big guy in the middle,” Corn said. “They are playing with confidence right now. We have a tough challenge ahead of us.”
Four Lindenwood starters average in double figures, led by 6-2 senior guard Alex Bazzell at 17.0 points plus 5.7 assists. The center, 6-11 Brett Thompson, adds 10.3 points, and Lindenwood leads the conference at 80.9 points per game.
Lindenwood’s one starter not in double figures is Tyler Ressel, who played his freshman year at Missouri Southern and is the nephew of MSSU associate head coach Ronnie Ressel.