From free throws to buzzer-beaters, sophomore guard Sasha Stefanovic knows exactly where he’s effective on the court.
“I think my percentage (for 2- and 3-pointers) is roughly the same,” Stefanovic said.
He has shot 38% from beyond the arc this season, and the same from everywhere else on the court as well.
“For me, a higher-percentage shot would be taking a 3 over a deep 2 or a pull-up or something like that,” he said.
Stefanovic’s prolific 3-point success is nothing new. In his freshman season, while averaging only 2.5 points per game, Stefanovic shot an impressive 41% from the 3-point line. But his skill from the deep developed earlier than that.
“I’ve known (Stefanovic) since I was a sophomore in high school,” sophomore guard Eric Hunter Jr. said. “It’s not new to me that he can really shoot the ball. I’ve kinda always just known him as a shooter.”
In his senior year at Crown Point High School, Stefanovic was given the Northwest Indiana Times’ High School Basketball Player of the Year award. He finished his high school basketball career with 1,385 points − the most in Crown Point history.
One of Stefanovic’s greatest moments in high school was in 2016, when he hit a 3-point buzzer-beater to beat Valparaiso High School in the sectional championship.
Stefanovic hit another game-winning shot against Northwestern on Saturday. With 10 seconds remaining and the game tied, Hunter took an inbound pass and fired it to Stefanovic, who was standing wide open along the 3-point line.
“We like our chances with him wide open,” Hunter said.
During the previous games, Stefanovic didn’t shoot well and the team still gave him the chance at the end of the game.
Aside from that final shot, Stefanovic shot only 1-6 from the field on Saturday, and 0-6 in the previous game against Rutgers on Jan. 28.
“It’s weird when he doesn’t hit shots, then I know something’s not right,” Hunter said.
Head coach Matt Painter acknowledged the discrepancy in Stefanovic’s shooting at home versus on the road.
Currently, Stefanovic is shooting 47% from 3 at home, but only 23% away.
“He was somebody that played really well in home games in terms of his shooting, but he just hasn’t got going on the road,” Painter said. “Whether you’re making them or missing them, you just gotta keep working.”
Stefanovic attributed the lull in his performance simply to chance. He maintains that his mechanics have been correct throughout his slump.
“That’s the way that basketball kinda works,” he said. “You’re gonna go through slumps, or you’re gonna go through times where your shot’s not falling.
“It’s nothing really opponents have been doing. I’ve been seeing a lot of the same defenses and everything like that. I think it’s just kind of a slump in my shooting, and hopefully I get it back on track.”
Stefanovic said the shot against Northwestern can do just that.
“Especially on the road, when you hit a shot like that in a tough environment, I think it definitely could get you going a bit, just get your confidence up,” he said. “I think I kinda need to see a couple go in on the road like that, so hopefully that gets me going in the right direction.”
The shot got him going in the right direction indeed.
Stefanovic scored 15 points against Iowa last night off 5 3-pointers.
While Stefanovic’s confidence may have wavered, Painter’s faith in him has not. Over the course of the season, the Boilermakers have played with him in many different starting lineups.
“For us, it goes back to how you think preparing for the game,” Painter said. “You like to think in terms of, ‘What’s the best thing for us offensively?’ and ‘What’s the best thing for us defensively?’ and have the same answers. Right now, we don’t have the same answers.”
One answer that has remained a constant in the starting lineup has been Stefanovic.
“I think if you’re able to consistently do your job every single game, not make many mistakes defensively, I think it kind of allows you to stay in that role and increase minutes,” Stefanovic said.
Stefanovic’s consistent play increased his minutes significantly this season compared to last year. While he was still shooting well, Stefanovic averaged only 11.5 minutes and 2.5 points per game last season. After dropping 14 against Texas in Purdue’s 2019 opener, he earned himself a much larger role within the team.
“You get more confidence with more minutes that you get,” Stefanovic said. “You just get more opportunities to play. Every time I would go in last year for Carsen (Edwards) and Ryan (Cline), it’d be in three to four minute spurts, where it’s kinda tough to get into the flow of the game or get any real good looks.
“I think this year I’ve just been a lot more aggressive. I’ve been trying to get to the rim a little bit more, trying to get to the line and trying to be a bit more of a playmaker.”