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Maryland's Huerter changed pre-shot routine before making nine straight free throws Tuesday

In scoring all 13 points of his points over the last 11 minutes of Maryland’s 75-69 victory over Penn State Tuesday night, sophomore guard Kevin Huerter hit nine straight free throws, including one to finish a three-point play with 1:57 remaining to put the Terps up by four points.

Unbeknownst to many at Xfinity Center, Huerter had recently changed the pre-shot routine he had used since he was a fifth-grader in upstate New York and lost in the regional final round of a national free-throw contest, denying him a trip to the finals at the Naismith Hall of Fame.

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“I’ve had different people tell me it’s good to kind of change it up just to get a feel for it,” Huerter said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “This is the first time I’ve truly changed it.”

Don Markus' thoughts about the Terps' pace of play, Darryl Morsell's shooter's mentality and the need for Maryland's bench to contribute Thursday night.

Huerter said he went from spinning the ball in his hands and taking three dribbles before shooting to spinning the ball and taking just one dribble. Huerter said the intensity of the game also helped him focus more than he had recently in a succession of blowout wins.

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“It’s more than rhythm,” Huerter said Wednesday. “[Before], it just didn’t feel in rhythm, I was taking too long to get my shot up. I wasn’t comfortable with it. It didn’t feel like my regular [outside] shot. I was thinking about it too much.”

On a night when he sat out most of the first half after picking up two quick fouls, Huerter had not scored a point until hitting a pair of free throws with 11:03 remaining to tie the game at 50. His nine free throws were among 15 of 18 the Terps converted after starting eight of 16.

The nine free throws made and attempted were both career highs for Huerter, who as a result is now shooting the exact percentage (.714) he did last season as a freshman. Huerter’s previous best was making all six free throws in last season’s NCAA tournament loss to Xavier.

In a season in which he was trying to get to the free-throw line more, Huerter had been erratic in his shooting there, starting when he made just two of five in the season opener against Stony Brook. His father, Tom, would get on the younger of his two sons about it.

The combination of 7-1 senior Michal Cekovsky and 6-10 freshman Bruno Fernando produced 27 points and 17 rebounds in Maryland's 75-69 win over Penn State.

“Foul shots is the one thing in basketball that’s not thinking, it’s just muscle repetition,” said the elder Huerter, who was a 76.5 percent free-throw shooter in his college career at Siena. “I do kind of bust on him. I say you can’t be a great shooter and not a great foul shooter.”

Said Kevin Huerter: “Free throws obviously come from muscle memory, something you practice. The more you shoot ‘em, obviously the more you get a feel. Games are always different from practice.”

When he went home for a few days around Christmas, Huerter began working on both his pre-shot routine as well as the way he shot the ball in shooting sessions with his father and his older brother, Thomas, currently a junior playing for coach Jimmy Patsos at Siena.

“It was not [just] changing his pre-shot. I also told him his ball was getting it to basket too quickly,” Tom Huerter said. “It wasn’t an arc thing; it was a touch thing. He had to shoot with a little more touch. … He was already starting to toy with it.”

While Huerter still has a way to go to move past his father’s career free-throw shooting percentage, his performance against the Nittany Lions did finally eclipse that of his little sister, Meghan, who as freshman on the varsity at Shenendehowa High made four straight fourth-quarter free throws to seal a win last month.

“After the game, I said to her, ‘Meghan, you can now brag that you’re the best foul shooter in the family,’ ” Tom Huerter said. “Your brothers didn’t make four in a row.”

Tuesday’s free-throw shooting brought back memories for Huerter’s parents of the contest their son came close to winning as a 10-year-old. After advancing to the regional round in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Huerter made 24 of 25 and lost by one.

Though the elder Huerter can’t remember who won, he knows the kid who advanced to the national finals in Springfield, Mass. won’t be playing against the No. 1 college team in the country Thursday night, as his son will be doing when the Terps face Michigan State in East Lansing..

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“That kid that won is probably an accounting major at Siena,” Tom Huerter joked.

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