Shelton High boys basketball coach Brian Gardiner has put an added emphasis on free throw shooting at practice of late.
“We’ve been spending twice as much time on free throws the last week-and-a-half, two weeks,” said Gardiner. “Ever since the Amity game when we went 5-of-15, we’ve been shooting more foul shots, pressure foul shots in practice because all of these games are close because all these teams are good, so you have to make your foul shots.”
The extra practice paid off as Shelton made 17-of-18 from the free throw line in a critical 70-64 road victory over SCC Housatonic Division foe Cheshire High on Friday night.
The victory was Shelton’s first win at Cheshire in 10 years.
“It’s one of the toughest places to play in our conference,” said Gardiner of Cheshire.
The win gives Shelton (6-5 overall, 3-1 Housy) sole possession of second place in the Housatonic Division race. Cheshire falls to 2-8 overall, 2-2 in the Housy.
The Gaels got off to a slow start, falling behind 12-4 three minutes into the game.
Senior Casey Belade led Shelton with nine first half points, but the Gaels still trailed, 37-35, at the half.
Shelton took its first lead of the game on a Jack Gleason three-point play 2:13 into the third quarter. The Gaels led by as many as seven points in the period, before Cheshire roared back to take a 55-52 lead with one frame remaining.
Tied 62-62, Belade converted a runner in the lane with 3:27 left in the game to give Shelton the lead for good. The Gaels made 6-of-7 free throws over the final 1:01 to seal the victory.
“We’re starting to not [panic],” said Gardiner. “The beginning of the year, they were panicking when they were getting down early and forcing shots. We’ve gotten them to realize it’s okay, there’s a lot of time left. It’s maturity. They’re getting mature and a little more confident.”
Gleason scored 13 of his team-high 15 points in the second half to lead a balanced Shelton scoring attack.
Jeff Stockmal added 14 points, six rebounds and five assists. Belade chipped in with 13.
Gardiner was quick to praise the play of senior reserve Keenan Carey, who scored 10 points in extended action off the bench.
“He’s versatile, he can play all five spots on the floor so it’s nice to have him,” said Gardiner of Carey.
Shelton returns to action Tuesday night when it hosts Branford at 7 p.m. Branford is 3-7 on the season.