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Bemidji State basketball: Tesdahl's unique shot helps make Beavers one of the best free throw teams in the country

Bemidji State junior point guard Bryce?Tesdahl currently leads the Beavers in free throw shooting percentage and has made 85.2 percent of his shots this season. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Bryce Tesdahl's shooting technique is so unique and unorthodox, people have tried to change his style for most of his life.

Until he came to Bemidji State.

Tesdahl, a junior captain, is one reason why the Beavers are one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the country and he has made 46 of his 54 free throws this season for an 85.2 percent rate to lead the team. The Beavers are shooting 79.8 percent as a team to rank third among teams in Division II basketball.

"First of all I think we're all good shooters no matter who is on the floor, we're all capable of making shots and it so happens we practice a lot" Tesdahl. "A lot of people like to stand out on the 3-point line and practice threes all the time. Free throw shooting is kind of a lost art, but it also wins you a lot of games."

There is not much of a drop behind Tesdahl in free throw rates among starters. Junior transfer James Ellisor is shooting 84.9 percent and senior captain Pat Cassidy is shooting 83.7 percent. Lance Rongstad is shooting 86.5 percent off the bench.

Bemidji State's team free throw percentage is not a statistical aberration and is a generated result designed through practice repetition. Players shoot two free throws during practice breaks instead of going for water. Those shots are taken while tired and out of breath to mimic a game situation.

"We spend a lot of time working our offense to get to the free throw line to do different things," Bemidji State head coach Matt Bowen said. "We shoot 80 percent from the line - that's the highest value shot we're going to get - we're not going to get 80 percent anywhere else on the floor. You're creating a rest period for your team, you're putting a foul on the other team. There's just so many advantages you can get out of it by getting to the free throw line."

Bowen said the more important free throw statistic for the Beavers is the percentage generated in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference games. BSU is shooting 79.7 percent in that area.

Bemidji State defeated Minnesota-Duluth 101-76 on the road Monday and the Beavers shot 75.7 percent in the win. BSU made 28 of 37 free throws in the game, including 19 of 24 in the second half. UMD made 17 of its 19 free throws.

"When you look at the games we played well, in particular Duluth last Monday, we shot a lot more free throws than they did," Bowen said. "And that is part of our offense: that's going to the basket, attacking people, creating mismatches because I've got a lot of guys who are similar in height and similar in skill."

The Beavers have scored 145 points off free throws this season while BSU's opponents have attempted just 134. Tesdahl has 54 of those 145 points.

Tesdahl has been a steady free-throw shooter at BSU. He led the Beavers in free throw scoring last year as a sophomore (86.6 percent) and shot 74.1 percent as a freshman.

Tesdahl's quick release free-throw shooting style draws inquisitive looks and comments from fans in the crowd during games, including some players on the bench from opposing teams.

He has practiced that shooting style throughout his life.

"I watch home videos of myself when I was younger shooting out here (3-point line) and I think I developed some bad habits when I was younger. It always went in so I never corrected it," Tesdahl said with a smile. "There's a lot of people out there who say it's kind of herky-jerky and I've never heard anyone compare it to anyone else. I don't think anyone else shoots like that but if it goes in, it pleases me and I don't care what other people think about it."

As the grandson of legendary Chisholm head coach Bob McDonald, Tesdahl grew up in a basketball family and said some of his family members tried to tweak his shot to a more fundamental style.

"People in my family have tried to work with me about it," Tesdahl said. "It's got a little better since junior high and you've just got to keep practicing."

Tesdahl graduated from Crosby-Ironton High School as the school's all-time leading scorer. He also set Minnesota high school records for assists in a season (340) and assists at the state tournament. When he came to Bemidji State, Crosby-Ironton head coach David Galovich asked Bowen if he was going to try and change Tesdahl's shot.

"As long as he doesn't shoot 25 percent, I'm not going to try and fix it." Bowen said. "As long as he continues to do what he's doing, I'm going to leave him alone. It's got him this far ... Bryce's shot is very interesting. The kid has a very high basketball IQ. You don't get style points. He's a good percentage shooter and he's a good percentage free throw shooter. So we just go with it."

The Beavers (6-5 overall, 3-4 NSIC) are home at BSU Gymnasium this weekend to face Augustana (7-5 overall, 4-4 NSIC) and Wayne State (8-4 overall, 4-4 NSIC). Game times are 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The BSU women's team (4-7 overall, 1-6 NSIC) faces Augustana and Wayne State prior to the men's games with tip-off set for 2 p.m. The BSU women are also shooting well at the free throw line and are fourth in the nation led by Ellie Wessling's 84.2 percent and Samantha Baldwin's 83.3 percent.

The NSIC men's standings are jammed early on with only one game separating fourth from 10th place. The Beavers are tied for 10th.

"It's a really big weekend," Tesdahl said. "We took a step against UMD a couple of nights ago and now it's going to be difficult the rest of the way. We have a lot of tough teams coming up in January. We can't worry about what other people are doing. We have to worry about making ourselves better down the stretch and worry about what we're trying to do to make us healthy and make us go into games thinking we can win games."