Free-throw shooting proving crucial for Hawkeyes in conference play

BY TOM CLOS | JANUARY 24, 2013 5:00 AM

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Many college basketball teams around the country live and die by the 3 pointer.

The Iowa men’s basketball team on the other hand, has lived and died by the free throw.

Through six Big Ten contests, the Hawkeyes have either won or lost four games from the charity stripe — the lone exceptions being their blowout loss at Michigan Jan 6 and romping victory at Northwestern Jan 13.

As a whole, the Black and Gold are one of the most efficient squads from the line — their 70.3 free-throw percentage is fifth best in the Big Ten. But in those aforementioned instances that were made or broken from free throw land, only once have the Hawkeyes used their foul-shooting prowess when it counted most.

The first such occurrence was in Iowa’s 69-65 Big Ten opening loss to then No. 5 Indiana on Dec. 31.

Junior guard Devyn Marble missed a crucial free throw with 2:05 to go that ended up keeping the Hoosiers ahead by 3 points instead of 2— a lead they did not relinquish.

The most egregious examples of foul-shot meltdowns, however, were yet to come in the Black and Gold’s losses to then No. 22 Michigan State Dec. 31 and most recently No. 14 Ohio State on Tuesday.

Leading the Spartans 55-53 with 1:34 remaining in the game, junior forward Melsahn Basabe, sophomore forward Aaron White, and freshman guard Anthony Clemmons combined to miss four free throws while Michigan State went 7-of-7 from the line the rest of the way in the 62-59 defeat.

Against the Buckeyes, Iowa posted a paltry 13-of-26 performance in free-throw attempts, more than 21 percentage points below its season average. Each one of the team’s 13 misses proved decisive when a late Hawkeye rally fell short in a 72-63 loss in Columbus.

“It is so critical that when you play teams that are ranked that you execute our offense,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said following his team’s fall to the Buckeyes Tuesday. “[Free throws] were an issue against Michigan State and down the stretch against Indiana.”

White, who’s normally a sure-handed foul shooter at 73 percent, went a combined 8-of-18 from the foul line in the team’s trio of losses. The forward has put a lot of pressure and responsibility on himself to come through in the clutch.

“I was really disappointed with myself for the Michigan State game, I could’ve sealed it with 34 seconds left,” White said following the Hawkeyes win over Wisconsin. “I’ve really been focusing on making them in practice and shooting them extra.”

Not all has been lost for the Black and Gold from the free-throw line in the early league season thus far however. The Hawkeyes took advantage of their late trips to foul line and going 24-of-29 as a team in a NCAA Tournament résumé boosting 70-66 victory over the Badgers Jan 19.

“We have good free-throw shooters, and [against Wisconsin] we were able to make those big ones,” Senior Eric May said following the victory. “It’s something we work on every day.”

But with the Big Ten being so tough and each win seemingly coming at a premium, late-game performances are going to be crucial over the final seven weeks of the season. Free throws will likely determine Iowa’s fate in many of its upcoming contests, and so far the future doesn’t look particularly bright.

“After the Michigan State loss, guys were taking shooting free throws a lot more seriously in practice,” Marble said. “Normally, we’re a good free throw shooting team, but we’ve missed the ones that have counted.”

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