If you have any suggestions for Williams on how to improve his team’s free throw shooting, you may want to hold off and allow him to work through the current stack of advice piling up on his office desk.
“Nobody can answer that question,” Williams said following his team’s 105-72 victory. “I’ve got 100 letters this year from people who experts saying they can fix [our] free throws. That’s the dumbest damn thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I’m not the dumbest, either. If I could fix it, I would have already fixed the thing.”
The stats actually suggest otherwise. Regardless of constellations and potential eclipses, Williams has been able to improve his team’s free throw shooting not by harping on technique during practice, but by coaching up the team as a whole.
UNC’s 82.8 percent mark on 24-of-29 shooting is a season-high and its 94.1 percent effort in the first half was the best in any half this season. The Tar Heels knocked down their first 11 free throws after making their final 10 against Duke on Thursday.
Saturday’s performance from the charity stripe continued an upward trend that’s followed along with UNC’s nine-game winning streak.
After a 1-4 start in ACC play to fall to 11-7 on the season, the Tar Heels were shooting 61.5 percent from the free throw line. Over its past nine games, however, UNC is converting 66.4 percent of its free throw attempts.
The Tar Heels shot better than 70 percent from charity five times in their first 18 games; they’ve now accomplished that goal four times in their last eight contests.
While not a drastic change in statistical differential, it’s nonetheless been a critically positive development for team that was abysmal into late January. Sophomore guard Marcus Paige noted the correlation between the winning streak and the increased production at the stripe during his postgame interview.
“We’ve made a bunch of them when we needed to throughout this streak that we’ve been on,” said Paige, who leads the team with an 89.9 percent free throw mark. “Guys are just more confident. We’re still working on them every day in practice… They can be contagious either way, and since we’ve started to make some, I think it’s helped us out.”
Senior guard Leslie McDonald, who was one of four Tar Heels to make all their free throw attempts against Wake Forest, agreed about the contagious aspect and noted that those freebies represented nothing more than a mind game.
“Once you miss, you’re thinking about the second free throw so much that you can miss that one,” McDonald said. “But if you make your first one, you’re like, ‘okay, I got that one out of the way, no I know what to do.’”
Confidence is an intangible that’s impossible to quantity, but free throw shooting doesn’t happen in a vacuum. How this team plays has an effect on how well it shoots from the free throw line.
In its seven losses, UNC is shooting 48.7 percent from the charity stripe; in its 20 wins, 67.1 percent.
That bodes well for a team has matched its longest winning streak since the 2008-09 national championship season.