Foul shooting no longer a weakness

Doug Gulasy

The Kent State men’s basketball team is connecting from the foul line with a much higher frequency than last season

The Kent State men’s basketball team missed a few too many free throws last season for its liking.

“We’ve been talking to our team about it since the end of last year — that we felt that (free-throw shooting) was the main reason we didn’t have a chance to win the MAC championship,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said.

The Flashes finished last in the 12-team Mid-American Conference in free-throw percentage last season, shooting 64.2 percent from the line.

“If we want to compete, that had to be an area that we had to individually get better at and collectively take a lot more pride in,” Christian said.

So far this season, the Flashes have improved. Heading into tomorrow night’s game at UNC Greensboro, they are shooting 72.2 percent.

“I think everybody’s mentality about free throws is at a higher state,” senior forward Mike Scott said. “Last year, (there) was just no confidence heading to the line. I think it takes a few guys to show that confidence, and it kind of spreads like wildfire to the rest of the team.”

Sophomore guard Mike McKee said the improvement in free-throw shooting started before the season even began.

“In open gyms, when we play in the summer time, we play games to seven,” McKee said. “And whoever makes that seventh point has to go to the line for a one-and-one, and you can’t win the game until you make a one-and-one.”

McKee also said that sometimes, the players went to the gym at night to shoot free throws, and they couldn’t leave until they made 50 of them.

Scott has made the biggest jump so far this year. A 66 percent shooter from the line last year, Scott has made 90 percent of his attempts this season.

He said his improvement has come from practicing during the summer and “figuring out what was really comfortable for me — the release point, dribbles (and) the timing.”

“As soon as I get done dribbling, I shoot it,” Scott said. “If you sit there and wait, it gives time for things to creep into your head that don’t need to be there.”

Christian said the Flashes have improved their shooting because some of the team’s better free-throw shooters, such as Scott and junior guard Al Fisher (74 percent) shoot more free throws.

Meanwhile, McKee and Scott point to more team confidence as another reason for better free-throw shooting.

“There was a stretch I went through where I missed like five or six free throws, and it’s just a really, really uncomfortable feeling,” McKee said. “When you get up there and you’ve got the ball, you’re thinking, ‘I should make this, but I’ve been missing, and I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.’ It just plays with your head. When you have a clear mind and you’re confident, it’s just so much easier.”

Scott said making free throws comes down to confidence more than technique.

“It’s probably like 15 percent form and 85 confidence,” he said. “There’s people that shoot free throws all crazy types of ways. It’s definitely so much (about) confidence, it’s ridiculous.”

Whatever the reason for the team’s improved free-throw shooting, Christian believes it helps the Flashes hold off runs by opponents during games.

“If you get fouled and go to the line and hit two, it creates momentum your way,” he said. “If you go and miss two, it builds on their momentum.”

Contact men’s basketball reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].