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‘Easy’ points put Gatens in an elite group

[ 2 ] February 14, 2012 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Matt Gatens is on the brink of history, all because of this: He steps to the free-throw line, wipes off his left hand on his uniform while dribbling three times with his right hand, shoots and follows through.

“It’s worked out well,” said the senior guard on Iowa’s men’s basketball team. “I’ll probably keep it.”

Gatens is shooting 85.6 percent from the free-throw line this season. He is about to become the first player in school history to lead the Hawkeyes in that statistical category for four seasons. Five players — Dave Gunther, Jimmy Rodgers, Ronnie Lester, B.J. Armstrong and Adam Haluska — did it three times.

“I think it’s a cool accomplishment,” Gatens said. “I’d much rather win a lot more games.”

The Hawkeyes, 13-12 overall and 5-7 in Big Ten play, will try to improve on that in a 7 p.m. game Thursday at Penn State. Gatens has not played on a winning team at Iowa, or played in a postseason tournament.

“It would be huge,” Gatens said of playing beyond the Big Ten Tournament. “It would bring it all together, and go off on the right note. This team is capable of it. We’ve got to keep getting better.”

Gatens is shooting 86.4 percent from the line for his career, which ranks seventh in Big Ten history. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said he’s surprised every time Gatens misses a free throw.

“Really surprised,” McCaffery said. “We try to put him in as many situations where he’s going to get fouled as possible. We go to him in the bonus, things of that nature. Late in games we want to get the ball in his hands. A lot of times teams go the other way and they double him to make us throw it to somebody else. But that’s still a great weapon to have, because someone else is open.”

Gatens has had a knack for shooting free throws since he was in grade school.

“I always competed in those Elks Free Throw Contests as a kid,” Gatens said. “It was always kind of a big deal to me.”

Success at the free-throw line is one reason why Gatens is 13th in career scoring at Iowa with 1,452 points. He’s on pace to become just the seventh Hawkeye since 1939 to lead the team in scoring three consecutive seasons.

“Free throws are a big deal to me, and they should be a big deal to people,” Gatens said. “You’ve got to get there and earn them. And once you get there, you’ve still got to knock them down. It’s always been something I’ve taken seriously. It’s an easy way to get points.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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