February 5, 2013 12:23:51 AM
Matthew Stevens - email@example.com
STARKVILLE -- If Mississippi State University men's basketball coach Rick Ray says he knew how to solve the free throw shooting problems Saturday night, he'd have a different job title.
"If I could answer that than I would be a free throw coach," Ray said Saturday. "I would just go around the nation solving those problems. I can't answer that for you."
One of the things that puzzles Ray is in their last 11 games, MSU (7-13, 2-6 in Southeastern Conference) has shot at least 70 percent in seven of those games. He does know it is not for lack of effort on the skill in practice and made that point very clear when he met with reporters Monday afternoon at Humphrey Coliseum.
"We shoot plenty of free throws," Ray said. "When you go up and shoot free throws in a pressure situation,it's an embarrassing thing when you don't come through because everybody looks at that like as to why you lost the game."
MSU is currently 10th in the SEC in free throw percentage by making 66.4 percent of their foul shots and sophomore point guard Trivante Bloodman is eighth individually in the league in the statistical category at 76.1 percent.
Ray was adamant the practice regime will not change for the MSU program after two heartbreaking losses that involved a young and depleted Bulldogs roster fell late in both home defeats to Texas A&M University and Louisiana State University. Ray believes that trying to correct those foul shot and late- game situational issues would resemble a form of panicking.
"Any time you do something wrong in ball game, there's no extra emphasis on it, it's just like show them tape and continue to do what you do," Ray said. "We have prepared our guys for everything and they didn't execute. It just happens in a late-game scenario and everybody notices."
MSU was 13 of 27 from the foul line Saturday night and missed 10 of its final 13 attempts down the stretch to allow for a LSU comeback at the end by sophomore guard Anthony Hickey. MSU freshman center Gavin Ware, who is currently shooting 59.2 percent from the charity stripe, used the word 'unacceptable' three separate times in the post-game media conference Saturday after the 69-68 loss to LSU.
"We would've had the game if we make our free throws," Ware said. "That's just one more thing we have to work on in practice," Ware said. "That's unacceptable. We can't throw the game away because we missed free throws."
MSU freshman guard Craig Sword said Monday he is having the same struggles from the foul line as he did at Carver High School in Montgomery, Ala., but has always relied of getting the misses out of his system early in the season. Sword is fourth on the team in 25.7 minutes per game but has made 42 of 84 free throws along with missing seven of his last eight foul shot attempts.
"I have been shooting free throws since the game was over with," Sword said. "It has been on my conscious. Normally I'm just thinking about making free throws. I don't think about anything else. It is just me and the free throw line."
It is Sword's comments that Ray and the rest of the MSU coaching staff are counting on as the attitude of his players. He said Monday his expectations have been met to see players voluntarily going into the Mize Pavilion practice facility to get up numerous free shots to get into a better rhythm before Wednesday night's contest at the University of Mississippi (8 p.m., CSS).
"Guys know what they need to do," Ray said. "Guys came in on their own to shoot free throws. Now that's not the only reason we didn't win the ball game but kids are aware of what they need to move on."
The one thing Ray does know is how important foul shots will be to the hopes of the Bulldogs pulling off a road upset in Oxford as MSU is averaging nearly five more free throws per game than their opponents.
"It was interesting watching the Super Bowl on DVR because the reason the Baltimore Ravens ended up winning that game is two fold," Ray said. "They won the turnover battle and their special teams, which would be comparable to free throws. I'm going to relay that message to our guys today."