Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hulls’ Indiana Free Throw Record Is A Big Deal

Jordan Hulls has his place in Indiana history. He might have it for all time. He has done what Calbert Cheaney, Steve Alford, Jimmy Rayl, Damon Bailey and everybody else in Indiana’s tradition-rich history couldn’t do.

The sophomore guard has made a school-record 41 straight free throws. It’s taken him 22 games and three months to achieve, which reflects a level of consistency seldom seen in college basketball -- or any basketball.

And yet, Hulls and IU coach Tom Crean treated the record with all the excitement of your family telling you they’d just changed the smoke alarm battery.

Hulls down played it so much after Saturday’s loss at Illinois it was almost like he didn’t know about it. Crean, in fact, insisted he didn’t know.

Yes, that seems to push the bounds of believability, but then, in the aftermath of an eighth straight defeat (and perhaps the worst team performance of the season), individual success meant little. You go 12-19 (ensuring a third straight 20-loss season, the worst stretch in program history) and nothing looks good.

Crean, an intensely competitive man who absolutely hates losing, looked like he wanted to stuff the guy who asked about it in a garbage can. He did not (he’s far too classy for that), but he spit out a comment:

“I didn’t know that. That’s great. Congratulations to him. He’s an excellent foul shooter.”

Who did ask about the record? We did. Why? Partly because it is a major accomplishment, partly because we get tired of asking about the the never-ending shoddy defense and losing ways.

Almost as much as Crean tires of talking about it.

Crean is driven to get this team playing to its potential and this program back to winning championships. A free throw record is of no relevance in that.

Hulls, also a fierce competitor, puts winning over individual glory. If his 4-for-4 free throw shooting had produced a victory over the Illini, he might have enjoyed talking about the record. But after this kind of loss and his own abysmal field goal shooting (he went 0-for-7), Hulls, too, looked like he wanted to stuff the dude asking it in a garbage can.

“It’s a good deal,” Hulls said, “but we didn’t get the win. It’s great, but I don’t …. It’s just tough.”

Who asked Hulls about it? We did. Who knows? Maybe we’ll ask Charlie Sheen about it next. Somebody needs to talk it up.

Pat Graham had the school-record record of 38 straight free throws during the 1990-91 season. Keith Smart had 37 straight in the 1987-88 season. Jimmy Rayl and John Ritter made 32 in a row. Alford had a streak of 31 straight.

Hulls does not get to the line a lot. He did go 8-for-8 against Northwestern (the IU single-game record for perfection is 18-for-18 by Ted Kitchel against Illinois in 1981), but Hulls also had nine games when he didn’t attempt a single free throw.

In case you’re curious, Hulls is 52-for-57 for the season (35-for-35 in Big Ten play). That’s a 91.2-percent rate. IU’s record is 92.1 percent (116-for-126) by Alford during the 1984-85 season.

Hulls is not among the Big Ten leaders because he hasn’t gone to the line enough. Iowa’s Matt Gatens is listed as the conference leader at 86.4 percent (70-for-81).

As far as Saturday’s game, Illinois won 72-48 by holding IU to a season-low in points. The Hoosiers left their game in Bloomington. Check that. Illinois ripped it away from them.

You can blame some of this on a brutal 36-hour turnaround from the Wisconsin loss that was too much for a reeling team beaten down by losing, although the Hoosiers didn’t.

“That’s no excuse,” Hulls said. “That didn’t bother us. We’ve got to play better.”

Here are the facts. Even with a month’s rest IU wasn’t going to win at Illinois on its Senior Day. The Illini finally played like the top-15 team it had been in December. The Hoosiers played like the last-place team they are.

Some day that will change. Say it 15 times while watching a tape of Keith Smart’s title-winning shot against Syracuse.

That day can’t come soon enough.

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