Hodge hits a dozen in a row
Jan. 16, 2005
BY TIM PEELER
"He's there before practice, after practice and during practice," said teammate Ilian Evtimov. "It's his full-time job right now, because we need him to hit his free throws."
So Sunday before the Pack's game against No. 8 Georgia Tech, Hodge got out on the floor early to shoot even more free throws. Trouble was, they just wouldn't go in.
"I was shooting a lot of extra ones, but I was missing a lot," Hodge said. "I guess I got my misses out of the way during pregame."
Not exactly. When Hodge was fouled with 9:04 remaining in the first half, he went to the line and missed twice. His free-throw shooting percentage in three ACC games fell to exactly 50 percent (59.3 percent overall).
Hodge, a career 80-percent shooter from the line, was fouled a few minutes later and hit both shots, giving him his only two points of the first half.
And he hasn't missed since.
Hodge went to the line 10 more times in the 76-68 victory over the Yellow Jackets, and swished every one. His productivity seemed to rub off on his teammates, as the Wolfpack hit 17 in a row during the final seven minutes of the game, streak that ended when Ilian Evtimov had his only miss in eight attempts with just 8.6 seconds remaining in the game.
That's a huge relief for a team that has struggled from the line, after leading the nation and setting an ACC record with a 79.9 free-throw percentage last year.
For Hodge, it simply reinforced what Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek has stressed to him in recent days: he doesn't need to carry the team by forcing up shots.
"Coach told me that teams are going to key their defenses on me, and I don't have to go out there and shoot 15 times and score 25 points for us to win," Hodge said. "I just need to shoot about 10 times, hit my free throws and get guys open shots."
Sendek lauded Hodge's unselfish play against the Yellow Jackets. Hodge hit only one of his seven field goal attempts, but he still finished the game with 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
The result? For the fifth consecutive year, the Wolfpack knocked off a top 10 team.
"I think that is a really good sign for our team," said Sendek, whose team travels to Virginia Tech on Wednesday. "I thought Julius tried to make his teammates better today. He did a lot of things that didn't show up in the scoresheet, not the least of which is making 12 straight free throws.
"If he doesn't make those 12 in a row, it's a whole other story."
Hodge believes he is out of his slump now, even though he will continue to keep working with Coach Harris at his full-time job when practice continues this week.
"It's really simple," Hodge said. "I know I am a good free throw shooter, and we really needed for me to make them, and I did today."
You may reach Tim Peeler at email@example.com.