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Javon Small is confidently leading Oklahoma State's 3-point revival

Jan. 5—Javon Small wasn't recruited to rectify Oklahoma State's 3-point shooting, but he's done just that.

Small, Jarius Hicklen and Bryce Thompson, each shooting better than 40 percent from behind the line, have taken an OSU team that was 162nd in 3-point attempts per game and 333rd in percentage a season ago to one that ranks 46th and 38th, respectively.

"It's kind of something that happened on its own," Small said. "I feel like we got one of the best 3-point-shooting teams in the Big 12."

It isn't just a feeling.

The Cowboys will start Big 12 play as the fourth-best team in 3-point percentage, but they're just 0.4 percent away from being No. 2.

Their opponent on Saturday, Baylor, is the best 3-point shooting team in Division I. The gap between the Bears and the second team on the list is greater than the one between second and 18th.

The team that makes the most distance shots at 2 p.m. in Gallagher-Iba Arena will probably win — as is the case in most college basketball games these days.

Coach Mike Boynton and his staff were on a mission this offseason. They were comfortable taking a step back defensively to bring in players who could improve the offense.

"We needed to make a big jump in 3-point shooting. It's been a problem. It's been something that's cost us some games, maybe an opportunity to participate in the (NCAA) tournament," Boynton said. "It starts with having a really good point guard who guys can buy into finding them in rhythm."

Small is that point guard. He also unexpectedly became the team's best shooter.

He struggled beyond the arc in his two seasons at East Carolina, shooting 21 percent as a freshman and 33 percent as a sophomore, but he's making shots like never before. He has hit at least two 3s in seven consecutive games at a 44 percent rate.

"That wasn't Priority A for him," Boynton said. "We knew he could shoot, but we needed him to be a firestarter."

It's early enough in the season that Small's percentage will likely come down. But the team is far enough in, 13 games, to defend the optimistic side: that its substantially improved 3-point shooting is no fluke.

"The biggest thing is confidence," Small said. "Not saying that I wasn't a confident player last year, but I just feel like every shot I take I'm going to make."

That confidence has spread to Hicklen, who improved from 36 percent in his junior year at North Florida to 41 percent now, and Thompson, who made a similar leap.

And as a result, it has created a new dynamic for the Cowboys' offense altogether.

If Small can pull-up from steps beyond the arc, he can run even higher pick-and-rolls, which extends the court, creating more space for a defense to cover. Picture a Small-Mike Marsh pick-and-roll 25 feet away from the rim, where a defender can't go under the screen because Small will splash an open look, and the rest of the defense understands that if the point of attack fails, then one of the best interior scorers on the team will go up with a jump hook or kick the ball out to another open shooter.

"The gravity of the game flows because of what (Small) is able to do, and then he's able to get other guys ... open shots," Boynton said. "And those guys ... have proven when they get open shots they can make 'em."