Foul Shooting An Important Weapon For WVU This Year
The other day I asked WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins what I thought was a pretty simple question – Is this the best foul shooting team you’ve ever had?
His response brought a chuckle.
“Please don’t jinx them,” quipped the veteran head coach, who has seen plenty of clanks and clunks in his 36 years leading college teams.
Whether the jinx is coming is to be seen, but if the season ended after 20 games, this year’s Mountaineer squad would have the highest foul shooting percentage in school history. WVU is currently making 75.4 percent of its free throws. No West Virginia team has ever finished a season making over 75 percent and only two have completed a year over 74 percent – 74.5 in 2005-06 and 74.2 in 2004-05. The best Huggins team at WVU was in 2013-14, which made 72.1 percent, the 11th best mark in school history.
That 2013-14 West Virginia team is also the only one since WVU joined the Big 12 in 2012 that has shot better than 69.5 percent from the line. The last three seasons the Mountaineers have finished eighth in the 10-team league in free throw shooting (68.5, 67.3 and 66.2), and they were fourth in 2013-14 and fifth in 2012-13 (69.5). This year they are currently second in the Big 12, behind only Oklahoma State (77.4).
This year West Virginia’s ability to make foul shots has taken a huge leap forward. It’s excellence at the line against Marist (24-29), Missouri (31-35), Virginia (16-18), Oklahoma State (27-32), Kansas State (13-16) and Oklahoma (18-21) allowed WVU to pull out hard-earned victories in each of those games. In all, the Mountaineers have shot 80 percent or better eight times through their first 20 games. Last year they shot 80 percent or better a total of eight times in their 37-game season.
It all culminated with a perfect performance from the line in the blowout win over Texas on Jan. 20. WVU was 12-of-12 on foul shots against the Longhorns. It’s just the 11th time in school history that West Virginia has made every foul shot it took in a game, when trying at least two, and other than a 13-for-13 performance against UMass in 1977 (when Huggins played but did attempt a foul shot), none of those other perfect free throw games involved more than eight attempts.
Obviously such a team effort stems from good individual performances. Currently four Mountaineers are shooting at least 80 percent from the line – Jevon Carter (85.3), D’Angelo Hunter (83.3), Chase Harler (80.0) and Beetle Bolden (80.0). Six others are shooting between 70 and 77 percent, with only seldom-fouled centers Maciej Bender (5-of-13, 38.5 percent) and Logan Routt (2-of-4) coming below that mark. Last year no Mountaineer shot better than 78 percent from the foul line, and only four of them shot above 70 percent – Carter (77.4), West (76.5), Tarik Phillip (73.6) and Nate Adrian (71.2). Daxter Miles, who has never shot 60.2 percent from the line for a complete season in his previous three years at WVU, is currently making them at a 70.8 percent rate.
“They’ve been the most diligent at making sure they make their 100 (free throws) a day,” Huggins said of the practice regiment. “Dax has shot it better; he started the year off not shooting it very well, and he has historically not been a very good free-throw shooter. But he’s been very good lately. You think Lamont ought to be able to make free throws. J.C. Dax, Beetle, and we’ve got Esa. We’ve got guys that ought to be able to make free throws.”
Now if I just didn’t jinx it.