Mason chasing history at Duquesne
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Micah Mason needed 100 shots to swish, and only then could he leave Palumbo Center. No bounce off the iron. No spin around the rim.
His 3-pointers and pull-up jumpers had to find the net, a self-imposed edict for his afternoon workout.
“That's my thing for today,” said Mason, a Duquesne sophomore who paused after swish No. 74 to discuss this week's Atlantic 10 Tournament and how he'll be visiting Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., as college basketball's most accurate sniper.
With a 57.0 percent mark, Mason leads the nation in 3-point shooting, success he credits to his passion for practice that started in the backyard.
“Thousands of shots,” he said. “That's the only thing I can really tell you. A lot of practice went into it, my whole life.”
Only six players in NCAA Division I history have made threes more consistently than Mason has this season. The list includes Arizona's Steve Kerr, who sits fifth at 57.3 percent in 1987-88. With a few threes in Thursday night's first-round matchup against Richmond, Mason could move ahead of the former NBA star.
“I try not to focus on it,” said Mason, who has made 65 of 114 3-pointers. “It would be too hard if I was shooting out there trying to make a record instead of just playing the game.”
Mason's closest rival this season is Arkansas State's Melvin Johnson III, who has made 49.1 percent (83-169). Johnson could make his next 30 shots from the arc and still not match Mason's percentage.
It's been 22 years since anyone shot 3-pointers better.
“That's ridiculous,” Duquesne senior Ovie Soko said. “I tell him all the time, ‘Dude, you're like the best shooter I've ever played with.' It's kind of surreal to me at times. We sort of forget how good he really is. In practice, there's days he goes without missing at all.”
Mason easily has surpassed expectations for his first year at Duquesne (13-16, 5-11), a year that was on hold until the NCAA granted him a hardship waiver two days before the opener. The 6-foot-2 guard from Highlands transferred after one season at Drake, where he led the Missouri Valley Conference in 3-point shooting (105-193, 54.4 percent).
With the Dukes, Mason has made at least one 3-pointer in 23 of 24 games, and he has hit four or more nine times. Despite missing five games with a broken hand, he's the team's second-leading scorer (11.0 ppg).
“He opens up our offense because everybody in the country knows who he is,” Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said. “So they're chasing him all over the place, and that's opening up lanes for everybody else.”
Mason's best came Feb. 27, when Duquesne won at then-No. 10 Saint Louis, 71-67. He was 4 of 5 from the arc, scored 22 points and was honored with the A-10 player of the week award. But many teams have decided they just can't lose track of him.
“It changes the way you can guard us,” Soko said. “We have other guys who can make 3-point shots, but at the clip (Mason) shoots, it's almost a layup for him. If he misses an open one, you're almost surprised. He almost takes a defender off the floor.”
Mason also had to change this season. His first adjustment came soon after arrival, when coaches worked on the shooting mechanics that earned him the WPIAL career 3-point record. Mostly, they accelerated them.
“He shot the ball too slow when he got here,” Ferry said. “We really worked on speeding up his release and his footwork. He was a great shooter if he had time.”
Mason also had to learn how to find consistent shots in Duquesne's offense. After VCU held him without a 3-pointer on Jan. 18, Mason made 10 of 13 in his next two games.
“He's started to figure out where his shots can come from, and what he has to do prior to the ball getting to him,” Ferry said.
“I started to learn how to hunt my own shots,” Mason said. “Come off screens harder and faster and use them better.”
Lost among his numbers has been Mason's steadiness. He has committed just 13 turnovers and has the highest offensive efficiency rating in the country, according to kenpom.com. With that in mind, Ferry eventually wants to transition Mason to point guard while maintaining Mason's shooter mentality.
“He has such great vision,” Ferry said. “If he's more of a point guard, I think he can have a career even after Duquesne.”
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.
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