Citadel's 'Meat' makes his mark at foul line
There's one rather obscure statistic in which The Citadel's Demetrius Nelson ranks right up there with Tyler Hansbrough, Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry and some of the best players in college basketball.
That stat is "fouls drawn per 40 minutes," in which Nelson ranks 12th in the nation, drawing 7.2 fouls for every 40 minutes of game time.
In other words, Nelson, a 6-8 senior, is getting hacked more often that just any player in the country, just behind North Carolina's rugged Hansbrough (No. 1 at 8.6 fouls) and Oklahoma star
Griffin (No. 4 at 8.2), and ahead of Davidson's beloved Curry (No. 15 at 7.1).
Combine Nelson's ability to draw fouls with his 78.5-percent free-throw shooting — best of any big man in the Southern Conference — and coach Ed Conroy has a potent weapon and a major reason the 15-10 Bulldogs are riding a seven-game SoCon win streak heading into tonight's game with Appalachian State at McAlister Field House.
In The Citadel's last four wins, which have come by an average margin of just 4.7 points, Nelson has made 37 of 44 free throws (84.1 percent) while averaging 21.8 points per game.
"That's been really big for us," Conroy said. "You want to go inside with the ball, but usually that big guy is not a great free-throw shooter. That means you have to change what you are doing toward the end of a game.
"But with Demetrius, we know we can go in there and if he does get fouled, we know he's shooting a great percentage from the free-throw line."
The post player with a nice touch from the foul line is a rare find — Nelson is the only player taller than 6-4 who ranks in the top 10 in the SoCon in free-throw shooting.
But Nelson, who was recruited to The Citadel by former Bulldogs coach Pat Dennis, was not always a great free throw shooter. He shot just 57.9 percent from the line his freshman year, and has gotten better every year since — 60.0 percent as a sophomore, 65.1 percent as a junior and 75.8 percent in seven games last year, before a stress fracture in his foot forced him to take a medical redshirt.
"When I first came in, I felt like I was a pretty good shooter," said Nelson, who was named SoCon player of the week Tuesday after averaging 25.5 points and nine rebounds in two wins last week. "But I didn't pay a lot of attention to details.
"That's a big difference right now. I've shot a lot of free throws in the last five years, and I feel like I have a much better routine now."
If Nelson has a "swing thought" at the line, it's Conroy's advice to "finish on your toes and hold your release."
"That's all I try to do," he said.
"Hack-a-Shaq" defense won't work against Nelson. In the Bulldogs' 66-60 win over UNC Greensboro Jan. 31, Nelson was double-teamed often and made just 3 of 9 shots from the field. But got to the foul line 14 times and made 13 to finish with 20 points.
In SoCon games, Nelson has attempted more free throws (103) than any player in the league, even Curry (98). No other player in the top 15 has attempted more than 64.
And in the final minutes of close games, Conroy does not have to worry about getting his center out of the game to avoid sending a poor foul shooter to the line. Nelson made six in a row in the final 43 seconds of a 75-66 win at Western Carolina last week.
"When you are breaking a press, you can bring him back and most other team's centers aren't adept at coming up and covering," Conroy said. "It's just a great weapon for us."
Nelson isn't the only Bulldog knocking down free throws. The Citadel ranks No. 2 in the SoCon in foul shooting at 71.7 percent, and sophomore guard Cameron Wells also is in the top 15 at 75.3 percent.