Free throw woes have Rams running through the Stu

Photo by Brooke Marsh
Photo by Brooke Marsh
Photo by Brooke Marsh

There were 12 minutes remaining in VCU’s crucial cross-town contest against the University of Richmond when former guard Treveon Graham was fouled. With the Rams down 32-39 at the Siegel Center, Graham stepped up to the foul line. As usual, he emitted the confident swagger that you would expect from any team’s leading scorer. With his knees bent slightly, he raised the ball to a shooting position and released toward the basket — the shot did not fall.

Minutes later, with the score at 39-35, freshman forward Terry Larrier is summoned to the foul line. VCU’s fourth-best free-throw shooter dropped his shoulders, sprung them back up and hurled the ball toward the basket — another miss.

It was an all-too-familiar sight for home fans. The Rams have not averaged higher than 70 percent at the charity strike since the 2012-13 season, a year that saw five players shoot better than 70 percent at the line: Troy Daniels, Briante Weber, current senior guard Melvin Johnson, Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic.

Against U of R, the Rams shot 61.5 percent at the line while their opponents eclipsed them with an 83.3 percent conversion rate at the line. Had the Rams had similar success, it’s possible the game may have been a more competitive contest. Instead, the Rams were upset 64-55 against their rivals.

Last season, VCU ranked 292 in the NCAA Division 1 for free-throw percentage, a ranking which exists in stark contrast to the team’s Associated Press rankings, where the Rams were considered one of the top-25 teams in the country for seven weeks of the season.

It’s no secret that VCU’s ability — or inability — to take advantage of fouls has hampered the team’s chances to win games. The Rams shot 65.7 percent from the free throw line in 2014-15 — the second worst in the Atlantic 10 conference, beating out only Saint Joseph’s University and 14 percent below the best shooting team in the league, Fordham University.

With last year’s two best free-throw shooters still on the squad, the Rams are hopeful the team’s statistics from the line can reflect the habits of two of its current leaders: Johnson — as did the habits of last year’s seniors Graham and Weber — shot 69.1 percent and 70.1 percent respectively from the line.

The players believe an increased focus on free-throw shooting in practice since the arrival of new head coach Will Wade will mean improved results. The former Rams assistant under Shaka Smart comes from a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga team that averaged 68.5 percent, just about 3 percent higher than VCU’s last year.

“Free throws are something we’ve been practicing a lot,” Johnson said. ”Whenever we have breaks in practice we use the time to do free-throw lines. We’re going to be better at that now.”

Junior forward Mo Alie-Cox echoed the views of his teammate.

“That was something we really needed to work on last year and we did a lot independently to all get better, I think we’ll be much better this season,” Alie-Cox said.

Fans of VCU will hope that the players assertions will be affirmed, but only time will tell whether the team can move beyond its free-throw slump.

In the exhibition match against California University of Pennsylvania Friday, VCU as a team shot 62.5 percent (20-32) for the game, compared to Cal(Penn.)’s 71.8 percent (20-27).

“Really disappointed in our free throw shooting,” Wade said. “Not that we missed, but we didn’t stick to our routine to come off the line like we are suppose to, but I was proud we got two free-throw offensive rebounds.”

Fadel Allassan, Staff Writer

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 9.11.49 PMFadel is a sophomore print journalism major. He is fluent in English and French and enjoys writing about politics. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn

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