Billikens Struggling At Free Throw Line

Saint Louis University's ability to shoot free throws has never been good. In recent weeks, it has fallen even further, and it's reaching a point where the ramifications are serious.

In its past four games, SLU has made just 18 of 39 free throws. One of those games the Billikens lost in overtime, and another they won on a last-second shot. The game in between, a 26-point loss to Richmond, may have been the first game in school history where the team didn't make a free throw as they went 0 for 3 at the line. In SLU's past six games, it's shooting 51.8 percent from the line.

It's to the point where after freshman guard Justin Jordan badly missed his first of two free throws with 35 seconds left against St. Bonaventure on Wednesday, coach Rick Majerus could tell Jordan was going to miss the second. He did, keeping SLU's lead at three points and allowing the Bonnies to tie the game. Only a basket by guard Kwamain Mitchell with 1.4 seconds left pulled the game out for SLU.

"It's hard to have to win games twice," Majerus said.

SLU works on its foul shots as much as any other team, but the lessons somehow seem to get lost in games. Before Jon Smith went to the foul line against St. Bonaventure, Mitchell, the team's point guard and co-captain, was giving him guidance on his shot. (He made one of two.) Mitchell did the same when center Willie Reed, possibly the worst offender on the team, went to the line.

If SLU's free throw shooting had been even ordinary in league play, the team could be 6-1. With a hectic schedule coming up and little practice time, the free throw troubles could stick with the team for the rest of the season.

SAINT LOUIS 67, ST. BONAVENTURE 65:

Kwamain Mitchell banked in a running 5-footer with 1.4 seconds to play as SLU (13-8, 4-3) recovered from blowing an eight-point lead with 1 1/2 minutes to play to win its fifth straight game at home.

SLU did a good job defensively on St. Bonaventure forward Andrew Nicholson, holding him to 13 points and getting him to foul out after just 27 minutes. Willie Reed handled much of the defense on Nicholson and had 11 points and 11 rebounds.

The game's final minutes were confusing, as St. Bonaventure's Jonathan Hall was sent to bench with five fouls, only to return 1:38 later when it was determined he had only four. When Hall, who is second on the team in scoring to Nicholson this season, returned to action, he scored the Bonnies' final five points to tie the game.

NOTES, QUOTES

- C Willie Reed had his first double-double in almost a month as he finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds. It was the sixth time this season he was in double figures in both categories and he also had four blocks.

- PG Kwamain Mitchell scored just one point in the first half against St. Bonaventure and missed his first seven shots. He then made seven of his final nine, including the game-winner.

- F Cody Ellis' transoceanic travel may be catching up with him. After what coach Rick Majerus termed a "horrid" performance at Richmond, where he took just four shots, Ellis had just seven points against St. Bonaventure. He was in double figures in his first five games since coming over from Australia, but has had just nine total in the past two games.

ON THE SPOT:

SLU coach Rick Majerus wants point guard Kwamain Mitchell to think less about scoring and more about playmaking. Mitchell acknowledges that being the team's playmaker, leading scorer and top defender is taking a mental toll on him.

But Mitchell can only do that if someone else on the team steps up and produces more offense. At the guard position, much of that will fall on sophomore Kyle Cassity, who Majerus has been waging a continuing battle to get to shoot more. Cassity is a streaky shooter, and he made three of five against St. Bonaventure. SLU needs Cassity to have some consecutive games where he scores well to boost his confidence, which generally leads to him taking more shots.

QUOTE TO NOTE:

"We just played badly. You can use any metaphor, adjective or adverb you want but I think I summed it up and you can underscore the word badly." — Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus after the loss at Richmond.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SEASON RECAP:

Saint Louis started the season streaky as it won its first four games, lost its next three then won its next three. Since then, the Billikens have split 10 games and are 12-8 overall and 3-3 overall. G Kwamain Mitchell is averaging 15.7 points and F Willie Reed is averaging 12.1 points and 8.1 rebounds.

PLAYER ROTATION:

Usual starters -- F Cody Ellis, F Willie Reed, F Jon Smith, G Kwamain Mitchell, G Kyle Cassity. Key subs -- G Christian Salecich, F Cory Remekun, G Justin Jordan, F Brian Conklin.

GAME REVIEW:

Saint Louis 75, Fordham 48
George Washington 67, Saint Louis 62
Richmond 62, Saint Louis 36
Saint Louis 67, St. Bonaventure 65

GAME PREVIEW:

at La Salle, Saturday, Feb. 6
at St. Joseph's, Tuesday, Feb. 9
vs. Dayton, Saturday, Feb. 13
vs. Rhode Island, Wednesday, Feb. 17

IN FOCUS:

If SLU's free throw shooting had been even ordinary in league play, the team could be 6-1. With a hectic schedule coming up and little practice time, the free throw troubles could stick with the team for the rest of the season.

ROSTER REPORT:

- G Femi John has missed three straight games with a sore knee and there is no timetable for his return. He has started eight games in his freshman season but had come off the bench in his last three.

- G Jeff Reid is not expected to play again this season. He has been out since suffering a concussion in the loss to Notre Dame on Nov. 28.

- G Paul Eckerle, who is redshirting this season after undergoing knee surgery in the summer, said his rehabilitation is going well and doctors expect him to be completely healed by the time practice for the 2010-11 season begins next October.


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