Let’s start this off by saying that the Orange pulled off an absolutely huge win over UConn on Thanksgiving Day to advance to the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis. They played better than they have all season and outlasted the 18th ranked Huskies 79-76 in a game where they shot under 62% from the free throw line.
Free throws have been a problem for Syracuse in recent years, and in the early part of this season, it seems that the trend is set to continue. If the Orange hit only 70% of its free throws– which is far from great– they come out of the game with a much more comfortable win, as they would have about five more points.
The problem that the Orange face is that the players that need on the floor to make a difference– namely Tyler Roberson and Michael Gbinije– struggle from the line. Gbinije went 1-4 from the line on Thursday after shooting 57% from the line last season. Roberson struggled even worse, going 6-13 from the line and shot 64% from the line in a limited role last season.
These are the players that Syracuse needs on the floor at the end of a game, especially a close, rivalry game like the one against UConn. Roberson showed how valuable he is with his rebounding down the stretch. He was able to haul in five offensive rebounds, including the one with just seconds left that sealed the upset victory for the Orange.
Needless to say that the Orange will need him on the floor when the game is on the line. However, if something doesn’t change, he may be as much of a hindrance as he is a benefit. Boeheim will have to find a way to keep Roberson on the floor and solve his free throw issue.
The simplest way is to keep the ball out of his hands in a situation when the opponent is going to foul. The Orange were able to do this at the end of the game on Thursday as Cooney dribbled in circles, killing the clock. The Huskies did have the chance to foul Gbinije with about 30 seconds to go in the game but, luckily for the Orange, elected to test their luck on defense.
On Thursday, poor free throw shooting did not cost the Orange, but it just may in the future. The Orange need to figure out how to become more efficient from the line, especially the players Boeheim leans on so often.