NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Trey Freeman leads Old Dominion in assists, like any good point guard.
But it’s his scoring that is turning heads.
The 6-foot-2 senior has recently been on a tear, putting up numbers like no other player in the college game. Not Ben Simmons at LSU or Oklahoma’s high-scoring sharpshooter Buddy Hield.
Freeman has scored 24 or more points in nine of his last 10 games. The stretch included eight consecutive games with at least 24, the longest in Division I this season.
Not bad for a guy that had to be implored by his coaches to shoot the ball more.
“At first he was hesitant, maybe even reluctant,” coach Jeff Jones said. “But we said, ‘You’ve got to do it. I’ll tell you when it’s too much.'”
Freeman set a career high with 37 in a loss to Marshall on Jan. 23, then had 38 in an overtime win at Charlotte on Feb. 6.
Jones and his staff have never had to rein in Freeman in because he rarely takes bad shots. Freeman’s specialty — and preference — are mid-range jumpers. He gets open looks from 13 to 19 feet with a lightning quick first step and an explosive burst.
“When he goes up to shoot it, he’s so explosive on the jump, it’s very difficult to be challenged,” said Dave Twardzik, former NBA champion with the Portland Trail Blazers and ODU’s first All-American. He’s now retired in Norfolk and does color on ODU broadcasts.
One of Freeman’s strengths is that he plays within his limitations, Twardzik added while recently watching an ODU practice.
When shooting inside the 3-point line, Freeman shoots 45.5 percent. Outside the line, he’s at 33.3 percent.
“Mid-range. That’s just who I am,” Freeman said. “Not saying that I can’t shoot a three. It’s just I’m better at shooting the mid-range. For me, I feel like I can shoot a mid-range with high confidence in it. … I just know where my bread’s buttered, basically, so I don’t try to play outside of me.”
Freeman hopes to stay hot when Old Dominion (14-11, 7-5 Conference USA) visits Western Kentucky at the start of a critical two-game road trip that includes a stop at Marshall on Saturday. The Monarchs are fifth in the league standings, and the top four get a bye in the conference tournament.
Many players would love to have the green light to shoot as often as Freeman does — he’s launched 25 shots or more five times this season. He gets sheepish talking about those back-to-back games where he took 29 shots (made 10 and scored 25 points) and then 31 shots (made 16 and scored 38), but he’s accepted his role.
“My teammates, they tell me to shoot in the game, every time,” he said. “It would be hard if I had a lot of jerks mad at me about taking shots but these guys actually want me to do it. They tell me before games, ‘We want you to take over, go off, whatever.’ And they’re skilled guys, too. It’s not like they’re not good players.”
When assistant coach Bryant Stith watches Freeman play, it’s like watching himself.
“Trey reminds me so much of myself because his strength is that he recognizes what his weaknesses are,” said Stith, who played eight years in the NBA and is still the career scoring leader at Virginia . “A lot of players don’t understand that concept.
“Trey does what he’s good at, and people can’t stop that.”
In practice, Freeman showed how well he can shoot the 3-pointer, making shot after shot. But as he says, that’s just not his game. He prefers putting the ball on the floor and driving to the basket, or pulling up for a jumper when his path is blocked.
“I’m not a high-flying dude,” Freeman said. “I’m not the most athletic, but if I can get a step on somebody, I’m smart. I know how to play angles and if I can get a little bit of space, I can knock that down.”
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