There isn’t too much to complain about when you open your first season in 35 years by winning five of six games.
But based on their first few games, Dalton State College’s men’s basketball team can be even better.
The Roadrunners shot a woeful 52-for-94 from the free-throw line through the first four games this season — all wins, nonetheless — but have improved in the past two games and brought the season percentage up to 61.9 percent.
Roadrunners coach Tony Ingle said an ideal percentage by season’s end would be in the high 60s or low 70s, “which is pretty darn good for a team,” he added.
In their season-opening 69-66 win at Spring Hill College — the first game for Dalton State since what was then known as Dalton Junior College ended its program in 1978 — the Roadrunners went 13-for-29 (44.8 percent) on free throws. The following games were against Belhaven University (17-for-25, 68 percent), Southern Wesleyan University (16-for-25, 64 percent) and Hiwassee College (6-for-15, 40 percent).
“You just have so much time you can work on things,” Ingle said after the team beat Hiwassee this past Thursday in Dalton State’s home opener. “The guys, I have confidence in them. We have good foul shooters.
“Right now, we’ve started and we’re winning without it,” he said. “Can you imagine what’s going to happen when we improve? It’s something we’re going to get better at.”
Dalton State has already improved, making 22 of 30 free throws (73.3 percent) in an 89-87 loss at Tennessee Wesleyan College on Friday and 17 of 23 foul shots (73.9 percent) in Saturday’s 68-60 win at Bryan College.
“At first, we were (struggling),” guard Sean Tate said after Monday’s practice. “As a team, we shot (well) in the previous games. ... I think if it’s around 70 percent, then that would be good.”
A team’s success in-creases when top-notch shooters like Tate (28-for-32, 87.5 percent) head to the free-throw line more often than struggling ones, such as forward Raheem Mosley (3-for-14, 21.4 percent). So it is good for the Roadrunners that Tate leads the team in not only free throws made but attempts. Preston Earle (15-for-24, 62.5 percent) is second, while Anthony Hilliard (12-for-19, 63.2 percent) is third in both categories.
Surprisingly, the team’s leading scorers — Deme-trice Jacobs (14.2 points per game) and Ricky Sears (13.8) — have struggled from the free-throw line. Sears is 8-for-19 (42.1 percent) on free throws, and Jacobs is 8-for-18 (44.4 percent).
• Dalton State’s identity through its first six games has been playing great defense before the shot.
The Roadrunners have lost only one turnover battle (17-16 in the 79-73 win versus Belhaven). Overall, they have forced 116 turn-overs and committed just 83.
“That’s what we work on,” Sears said.
Beyond turnovers, Dalton State excels in deflecting passes away from a recipient or out of bounds. While not a recorded statistic, this disrupts the flow of a play or forces an opponent to inbound the ball, reset and set up a good attempt with less than the usual 35 seconds on the shot clock. That happened quite a few times in the 68-46 win against Hiwassee, which shot 17 of 61 (27.9 percent) from the field.
“I’ve always felt the defense was the heart and soul of any team, because the team gets credit on defense,” Ingle said. “Our defense against Hiwassee was sensational. To be honest, I really feel like our defense has given us opportunities to win ballgames.”
• Despite the free-throw percentages starting low, there is another foul-related statistic Ingle looks at — the number of fouls.
Dalton State’s six opponents have been whistled for 129 fouls against the Roadrunners’ 119 so far, and Dalton State has attempted 17 more free throws and made nine more than its opponents.
That disparity translates to not only added free throws from the bonuses but also foul trouble for the opposing side, which forces opposing coaches to use their bench more than they might prefer.
“I said during the Spring Hill game, ‘Guys, we’re winning the foul-shooting war,’” Ingle said. “They looked at me like I needed a saliva test. We shot 29 times. We got in the single bonus and the double bonus before they did.
“What people don’t calculate is the substitutions the opponent has to make. First thing is drawing the fouls and the impact that has on another team. Second is making the shots.”
• Energized after a three-day rest since Satur-day’s 68-60 win against Bryan College, Dalton State will play three home games at the trade center in a four-day span beginning at 7 p.m. today against Carver College.
The Roadrunners have the day off Thursday and then host Morris College at 8 p.m. on Friday and Voor-hees College at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
In addition to Dalton State’s games, the weekend action will include Cumber-land University taking on Voorhees College at 6 p.m. Friday and Morris College at 2 p.m. Saturday.