Marshall basketball: Foul line woes continue for Herd
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - One of the easiest shots in basketball isn't always so for the two Division I men's college basketball teams in West Virginia.
West Virginia University and Marshall University find the charity stripe quite stingy this season. The Mountaineers and Thundering Herd find themselves near the bottom of the Division I free-throw shooting rankings.
And if Saturday's Capital Classic is as beset with fouls as it has been in previous years - and considering the way fouls are being called this year, there's a good chance - both teams will put in even more time to improve before the 7:30 p.m. clash at the Charleston Civic Center.
The Mountaineers didn't shoot poorly from the line in their 80-76 loss to 20th-ranked Gonzaga. WVU made 17 of 22 free throws. But that performance was an aberration in what's been a shaky season at the line. By shooting 77.3 percent from that spot against the Bulldogs, that bumped the team up to 234th in Division I. The Mountaineers shoot them at a 67.4-percent clip.
If you're looking for the Herd, you'll need to look a lot further down the list.
Marshall is tied for 339th in the nation, shooting just 59.8 percent. It's one of just 13 teams in Division I shooting worse than 60 percent from the line following Tuesday night's games.
WVU Coach Bob Huggins and Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said their respective teams' problems at the charity stripe aren't for a lack of trying.
"We make 100 a day," Huggins said after WVU's win over Duquesne, where the Mountaineers missed 14 of 34 free throws. "I get every day how many they make, how many it takes for them to make 100, rather. Like I said on the radio, we should be an 80-percent free throw shooting team. Those perimeter guys all ought to be 80 percent. They are every day. They make 100 or more. They're more like high 80s."
Herrion likes his team to shoot at least 100 a day as well, though the Herd's practice setup - four baskets for 14 players - isn't very conducive to doing that during practice. So they'll put up plenty of free throws outside of official practice sessions.
Despite that, Herrion said that practice free throws and in-game free throws are two very different animals.
"You can't simulate what a game is really like," he said. "You have to go through those experiences to gain experience.
"The elements change," Herrion added. "The atmosphere changes. Whether you shoot them at the beginning of practice when you're not fatigued, there's no right formula to it."
Poor free throw shooting has directly led to Marshall losses. The Herd made just two of six from the line in the final minute of regulation versus Morehead State. DeVince Boykins missed two with less than a second to go, sending the game into overtime, where the Eagles beat the Herd, 102-94.
Coaches and players say the key to better free throw shooting is as much, or even more mental as it is physical.
"You can shoot as much as you want," said Marshall sophomore Tamron Manning, second on the team shooting 75 percent from the line, "but when you make one in the game and you feel better, then one turns into 10 and you get better as it goes on. We just need to be confident at the line and make them."
Practice only takes you so far, Herrion said. It's one thing to walk into an empty gym and do nothing but shoot free throws. It's something else to attempt them in a packed arena with thousands of screaming fans, after the player had just sprinted up and down the court a few dozen times.
But Herrion also said that the physical and mental could go hand in hand, that the actual act of making a free throw can help the player make more.
"A lot of it is muscle memory, both physically and emotionally," Herrion said. "You've got to remember what it's like when the ball goes through. And that's what you've got to emulate and simulate every time you shoot it. When you make shots, what am I doing, rather than worry about missing. We want our guys to worry about how we attain success and what makes for more makes than misses."
There have been far too many misses for either team's liking as Saturday's game approaches. For Marshall freshman point guard Kareem Canty, shooting 65.7 percent from the free throw line this year, it doesn't matter what his team needs to do to start making them. It needs to make more.
"I feel like free throws are free," Canty said. "They're easy points. That's one time you can be selfish. All you have to do is shoot and block everyone else out."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.