While they might seem small at just one point each, free throws are actually worth a lot. It’s like shopping at Five Below: each item seems so cheap, so you throw them all in your cart, and when you checkout at the register, they run up a large total bill.
That is the story for Syracuse and its free throws. Each one missed is only one potential point lost, but at the end of the game they all add up. This is something Jim Boeheim teams have historically had trouble with.
Five of SU’s losses last season were decided within the number of free throws the Orange missed. Meanwhile, 16 wins were determined within the number of free throws SU made.
The Orange’s missed free throws played a part in Saturday’s 64-50 loss to South Carolina at the Barclays Center as well. Syracuse made 16 of 26 free throws against the Gamecocks. While the 10 missed free throws did not directly determine the outcome of the game, it influenced the way the Orange tried to pull off the win toward the end. The gameplan is different if the team is down by 4 points or if they are down by 14.
Let’s say SU had somehow made those 10 free throws instead of missing them. A 64-60 game toward the final minutes would mean that the Orange would not have been taking as many 3-point shots from far away as they try to make up the difference.
Even though SU did have trouble scoring in the paint against South Carolina (8 points down low), the Orange would instead have been able to work closer to the basket late in the game.
Right now, Syracuse’s 63.9% free throw percentage is ranked 291st in the NCAA. Now ranked 22nd in the AP Top 25 Poll, the Orange can improve its performance on the court by getting more points when shots are given for free.
With the exception of South Carolina, Syracuse has had an easy schedule so far this season. As the year goes on, the Orange will have to get all the little things right in order to capitalize against the bigger teams in tougher matches down the road. The old concerns about making those free throws will again be front and center for the Orange.