Men’s Basketball: Free-throw inefficiency continues to plague Northwestern


Source: James Coller/The Michigan Daily

Tre Demps tries to keep up with a Michigan player. The senior guard was the only Wildcat to make all of his free throws Wednesday, going 2-for-2 from the line.

Ben Pope, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

Scoring from the floor hasn’t proven a problem for Northwestern lately. But scoring from a thin line of paint exactly 15 feet from the basket has been a challenge , and it’s repeatedly costing the Wildcats in tight games.

NU (17-11, 5-10 Big Ten) has outscored its opponent from the field in six straight games, including Wednesday’s 72-63 loss at Michigan and dating back to the team’s 85-71 loss to Iowa on Jan. 31.

However, a vast disparity in the ability to draw free throws and then convert them — during the stretch, the Cats have been throttled by a whopping 114-44 margin at the charity stripe — has cursed the team to four losses in those six contests.

On Tuesday, the Wolverines (20-9, 10-6) made 20-of-25 attempts while NU converted just 5-of-9.

The loss, in which the visitors yet again crumbled late in a winnable, quality road game, continued a cringeworthy overall trend in terms of efficiency. Over the four-week time period, the Cats have sunk just 61.1 percent of their free throws while their foes have drained 76.0 percent.

Quite frankly, Michigan’s guys were tougher than our guys … just putting their heads down and driving and getting to the free throw line,” coach Chris Collins said. “We missed 1-and-1’s or made 1-of-2.”

NU has little direct control over opponents’ free-throw shooting rate, although a gameplan to reduce fouling and limit the opportunities for opponents to get to the stripe may have reduced the deficit. But the blame can be dealt out fairly for their own inefficiency, and it rests particularly heavily on the centers.

Senior Alex Olah is 6-for-13 at the line over this stretch, equating to a 46.2 percent conversion rate. Graduate transfer Joey van Zegeren is incredibly below that rate for the entire season and hasn’t made a single free throw since Jan. 19 (he’s 0-for-4 since). And although he hasn’t been to the line in four consecutive games, freshman Dererk Pardon is actually shooting at a higher rate from the field (66.2 percent) than from the free-throw line (.535) this year.

Those struggles are adding up. Entering Tuesday, the team ranked No. 285 out of the 346 Division I clubs in free throw percentage — and their performance in Ann Arbor only worsened that percentage.

Score effects have undeniably been a factor in the troubling statistic. Trailing by single digits entering the final minutes of several games lately, NU has been forced to play the fouling game, inflating their opponents’ numbers.

Nevertheless, better performances at the line throughout the entirety of games could have allowed NU to avoid such deficits altogether.

Collins, disappointed after the hard-fought loss Tuesday, summed up his team’s free-throw struggles succinctly.

(When) we got to the line, we missed,” he said.

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