The free throw line. The charity stripe. The bonus. Freebies.
Simply from names associated with the shot, it’s pretty easy to tell that the entire point of a free throw is to give a team that is wronged in one way or another an opportunity to pick up free and easy points on what many consider to be the easiest shot in the game of basketball. Apparently, Syracuse didn’t get the memo.
The Orange struggled mightily from the line in Tuesday’s loss to No. 5 North Carolina. SU shot just 13-23 from the charity stripe against the Tar Heels and that includes an impressive night from Tyus Battle that saw him knock down 11 of his 14 (78%) free throws. In the second half alone, which is where SU fell apart, the Orange went just 11-18 from the line and all 11 of those makes came off the fingertips of Battle.
But this wasn’t just a one time, “Oh, we had a bad night at the line,” occurrence. This kind of abysmal free-throw shooting has become far too commonplace for Syracuse. SU ranks 267th out of 351 Division I teams in free throw percentage at an average of 68%. Over their last four games alone (losses to NC State, Duke and UNC and the win over Louisville), the Orange are even worse than that, shooting a combined 50-80 which comes out to just about 62%.
That’s something that cannot be happening when you’re in the midst of what is clearly the toughest stretch of the season. You have to be taking every opportunity presented to you and missing that many free throws is the opposite of taking advantage.
If you look at each of those losses individually and make Syracuse a top-150 free-throw shooting team (about 71%), you get 4 points back against NC State, 2 points back against Duke and nearly 4 points back against UNC. While none of those numbers would have been enough to actually win Syracuse those games, a couple more made free throws here and there could have changed the deficit in critical situations, therefore, giving SU a shot at mounting a comeback, something they robbed themselves of by shooting poorly from the free throw line.
The numbers become even more frustrating when you consider that SU is in the 25% in the country in terms of free throws attempted per game. This means that the Orange get more opportunities than almost 80% of the nation to affect the game and outcome at the free throw line and instead of taking advantage of that, they squander those opportunities. Simply put, by missing free throws you are leaving easy points on the court.
So, who are the biggest culprits for Syracuse you might ask. Well, perhaps the most frustrating one is Oshae Brissett. He ranks second on the team with 130 attempts on the season, yet he’s only knocked down 64.6% of his freebies, which ranks 6th on the team. Keep in mind, this just a year after he shot 78.7% from the charity stripe as a freshman and went 16-16 in a win over Buffalo. He went 0-5 this year against UNC. I mean, really, what the heck happened?
Despite leading the team in free-throw shooting at 77.3%, you might also want to take a good look at Battle. Last year, he shot over 83% from the foul line and made 167 free throws. While he’s on pace for a similar number of makes this season, he’s clearly lost a lot of his efficiency from a year ago and even Jim Boeheim has made some comments about how he hopes nobody ever messes with his shot again because he’s seen a down-tick in his ability from the free throw line.
Any way you slice it, free-throw shooting is a huge problem for Syracuse. Against some of the best competition in the country, they’re leaving scoring opportunities and points on the floor. That will not fly in March. SU is notorious for being bad from the line, but this year, it seems more detrimental to their success than it has in a long while.