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Mount St. Mary's forward Chris Wray takes distinctive free-throw form into NCAA Tournament

Chris Wray uses his athleticism during Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball practice to unveil an array of eye-popping offensive moves and trick shots.

EMMITSBURG — His skills also include missing nary a free throw, despite owning a woeful percentage during the Mount's games. But lately, the junior has been connecting by using an unconventional approach.

Wray is shooting his free throws left-handed. And with only his left hand.

The technique might draw snickers from fans and opposing players, but the Mountaineers are just fine with the recent results. And if Wray has a chance to sink a few clutch free throws in Tuesday night's NCAA tournament game against New Orleans, don’t be surprised if they go in.

Wray’s free throws are part of the reason why Mount St. Mary’s (19-15) is the Northeast Conference champion for the second time in four seasons, making a return trip to Dayton as part of the “First Four” to open the NCAA tournament.

The 6-foot-8 forward out of Shelby, N.C., shoots 57.5 percent from the field, and averages 7.1 points and 5.9 rebounds. Coach Jamion Christian said Wray’s rate rises to near 65 percent when Wray takes shots inside the paint. Many of those are one-handed layups, or baskets in which Wray uses the glass.

But at the free-throw line, things are different. Wray limps along at 31.5 percent.

It took a routine shooting exercise in practice for coach and player to come up with a different method.

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“It’s something that we worked on with form shooting,” Wray said Saturday at MSM’s workout. “We start with one hand and we work from the basket all the way out to the free-throw line. The problem was my guide hand, so we just decided to take it off [the ball], focus on the shot itself.

"I just went back to doing the routine. It wasn't like it was new to me. I had done it before."

Christian said he has confidence in Wray when it comes to the one-handed shots. And the Mountaineers have seen slightly better results — Wray has made five of his last 13, including two big ones against Robert Morris in the NEC semifinals.

The Mount led 68-66 with 41 seconds remaining when Wray drew a foul and went to the line. He had missed one free throw earlier in the game, which led to a few smiles from Robert Morris’ bench. The Colonials weren’t smiling after Wray sank a pair, giving MSM a two-possession lead.

Wray’s style might not compare to NBA great Rick Barry and his underhanded free throws, but points are the objective in either case. Wray said he knew his way was working when, after a miss in a game, teammate Khalid Nwandu didn’t laugh it off. 

“I said, ‘As long as y’all are OK with it, I’m OK with it,’” Wray said. “That’s really all that matters.”

New Orleans (20-11), the champions of the Southland Conference, averages 73 points per game and features senior forward Erik Thomas as its go-to player. Thomas averages 19.5 points per game and grabs 7.8 rebounds, both team highs. The Privateers also have senior guards Christavious Gill (11.6 ppg) and Nate Frye (10.3).

Mount St. Mary’s counters with All-NEC picks Elijah Long, a sophomore guard, and Junior Robinson, a junior guard. Long leads MSM in scoring at 15.4 points, while Robinson averages 14.1.

Freshman guard Miles Wilson (11.3) and Wray are next for the Mountaineers, giving Christian options on offense.

Christian’s bunch is competitive, but the coach said nobody on the team matches Wray’s level of intensity.

When Wray was a freshman, Christian said, the Mount took an off-campus outdoors trip for team bonding activities. Christian had Wray on his team, and the goal was to scale a rock wall to capture a flag perched on top. Christian recalled Wray coming up with a strategy to secure the flag faster than anyone on the trip.

That competitive edge is what inspires Wray to improve his free-throw shooting, Christian said. And if they come one-handed, so be it.

"He has the type of personality where it's challenging enough for him, that I think he can really buy into it," Christian said. "I've got a lot of faith that he's going to make the free throws when we need them. I literally told my mom that morning [before the Robert Morris game], I said, 'He'll make them when we need them.' And I really believe it.

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"As long as it goes in."


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