Eight games into the 2017-18 season, it's quite clear that Texas is a much-improved product in multiple aspects, but free throws certainly isn't among those.
We previously detailed the ‘Horns struggles from the charity stripe following the PK80 Invitational, in which Texas’ inability to consistently convert cost Shaka Smart’s club an upset over then-No. 1 Duke. Since that point, the ‘Horns key contributors have only regressed in that regard, with the exception of Jericho Sims, as seen below with the six-game efforts noted and the new eight-game percentages in bold.
- Dylan Osetkowski — 16-22 — 72.7% (70%)
- Kerwin Roach II — 12-22 — 54.5% (48.1%)
- Matt Coleman — 13-20 — 65% (65%)
- Andrew Jones — 15-19 — 78.9% (69.2%)
- Mohamed Bamba — 11-16 — 68.8% (60%)
- Jericho Sims — 3-11 — 27.3% (40%)
- Eric Davis Jr. — 6-7 — 85.7% (69.2%)
As non-conference action winds down with some stout competition and Texas gears up to enter what looks to be another grueling Big 12 slate, what is Smart doing to address the Longhorns free throw shooting woes?
"I think the most important thing is repetition, but then trying to put some pressure on those reps,” Smart said during a Monday afternoon media availability. "Trying to build some type of pressure behind the free throws, but it's not the exact same as being on the line in pressure moments,” Smart added.
In hopes of building pressure, Smart noted that during the practice following Texas’ 71-67 win over VCU, in which the ‘Horns nailed just 54.5 percent of their free throws (12-22), he split the team into two groups at practice and instituted a competition from the free throw line. The losing team was required to run before resuming its efforts from the free throw line — this drill continued for about 15 minutes.
That said, although the overall team contributions from the charity stripe obviously aren’t ideal, shots did fall when it mattered most. With Texas trailing VCU 63-62 with 1:34 to play, Mohamed Bamba stepped up and converted two attempts to give the ‘Horns the late lead. Throughout the final 30 seconds, as VCU went into must-foul mode, Eric Davis Jr. knocked down three of his four looks, which prompted praise from Smart after free throws essentially sealed a victory during his return to VCU.
"I though Mo stepping up and making those two free throws at VCU was huge for us and then Eric making three out of four down the stretch was really important in a close game," Smart said.
If numbers never lie, though, they paint a picture of plenty of work to be done.
Through eight games, Texas has only shot above 70 percent from the line twice, against Butler (83.3%) and Gonzaga (73.3%). Meanwhile, the ‘Horns have failed to convert more than 60 percent three times — Lipscomb (57.6%), Florida A&M (43.5%) and VCU (54.5%). With Michigan on the other side of the court on Tuesday evening and Alabama on the schedule to close out the non-conference schedule, as well as Big 12 play opening with five ranked foes in the first seven games, the free throw line should soon prove to be the difference in wins and losses.
It already had; just consider Duke and VCU.