February 13, 2008

Red Guards Succeed at Stripe

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The cliché phrase has always been, “practice makes perfect.” When it comes to free throw shooting for the men’s basketball team, if practice doesn’t make perfect, it comes very close.
Throughout the season, the Red has been top performers when it comes to shooting. After this weekend, the Red rank fourth in the nation in free throw shooting at 78 percent. Leading the pack, and ranked second in all of Division I basketball, is sophomore guard Louis Dale at 95 percent. Recently, Dale broke his consecutive free throw streak of 52 in the team’s victory over Penn this weekend.
“When I shot it, I knew it was short,” Dale said. “I was just hoping that it would hit the back and then the front and roll in.”[img_assist|nid=27708|title=Nothing but net|desc=Behind the efforts of the Red’s guards, Cornell ranks fourth nationally in free throw shooting.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Even with the miss, the ball hit all over the rim and eventually fell out. Dale, who shot 17-18 from the line this weekend, now holds Cornell’s record for most consecutive free throws made. Dale’s streak dates back to Nov. 25, when the Red earned an 83-77 win over Siena. Even though his streak lasted over two months, Dale says he never thought about it.
“I knew I was on a streak,” Dale said. “But I was not thinking about it.”
Dale and assistant head coach Nat Graham credit Dale’s outstanding streak to head coach Steve Donahue’s emphasis on free throw shooting in practice. Dale stated that the team shoots 25 shots individually at each practice.
“We do shoot a lot, we probably shoot more than most teams,” Graham said. “Its one thing Coach D stresses and fortunately we have a lot of good free throw shooters. Even our bigs have been hitting them.”
Coach Donahue’s practice session proved to pay off this weekend as the Red defeated Penn. It was the Red’s first victory against the perennial Ancient Eight champs in 18 games spanning the past nine years.
In the contest, it was the Red’s aggressiveness that paid off as it marched to the line 29 times compared to the Quakers 19. The Red went on to nail 27 of those, earning a 87 to 74 victory. From the outset, it was another guard on the Red that spurred the free throw shooting marathon, junior Adam Gore.
“Adam set the tone getting us to the foul line,” Donahue said. “Early on, we were rushing stuff and he was shot-faking, getting to the foul line. Then Lou started doing it and our big men started doing it. We end up getting to the line 29 times, and we are a very good free-throw shooting team.”
It was Gore’s consistent use of the pump fake that earned him so many opportunities. The junior ended up finishing the game with 14 points, eight coming from the free throw line.
With skilled free throw shooters such as Dale and Gore, in addition to sophomore guard Ryan Wittman, deciding who would take the final one to win a game becomes a difficult choice for coach Donahue.
“To be honest, they are all pretty close,” Graham said. “I would take Adam Gore and that’s not taking anything away from anybody. Just because I have never seen a kid so mentally tough.”
The mental aspect of shooting was something Dale emphasized as well.
“I tell myself to focus and know that I am going to make the shot,” Dale said. “Free throw shooting is all about concentration.”
When asked who he would choose, Dale quipped, “Me.”
Regardless of who might end up on the line in tight situations, it is safe to assume the Red would have confidence in him. Gore currently shoots just under 93 percent, Wittman at 87 and even big man senior Jason Hartford shoots above 80 percent.
“As a coach, you expect those guys to make all of them,” Graham said. “You get surprised when you see them miss any.”