Thursday, February 18, 2016

LSU Tigers Must Improve at the Free Throw Line

Last March I watched the LSU Tigers completely give away an NCAA Tournament game to N.C. State. Although the Tigers were the lower seed in the opening 8-9 matchup, they held way more talent and potential than their 22-11 record showed. With two legitimate stars in Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, it felt like the Tigers could make a run. Unfortunately, LSU managed to make only 12 of its 22 free throws (with Mickey going 4-for-9) and lost by one point.

It was miserable. It was a terrible way to end such a promising season. And it was the one thing I hoped would be better in 2015-16.

Unfortunately, it isn't. Yes, Coach Johnny Jones doesn't shoot the free throws. But there has to be a way to get his players to make more of them.

Last night, LSU was surprised by Alabama at home, losing 76-69 for its second loss in three games. The Tigers seemed to be in control most of the way, and they were certainly never truly out of it until the final minute or so. They didn't play any worse than the Crimson Tide, and they didn't make a bunch of plays that felt out of character for this year's roster, which has been way too inconsistent overall. Alabama simply won the game by being the better team in the final five minutes.

But once again, missed free throws contributed significantly to another crushing defeat. The Tigers shot 20-for-35 from the line (57.1 percent), with most of the shots and misses coming from Ben Simmons, who was 10-for-19. (Yes, I know the team likely wouldn't be as successful as it is without Simmons in the first place, but that logic didn't help much last year either.) By comparison, Alabama's Retin Obasohan shot 11-for-11 from the stripe alone.

The free throw situation needs to improve before fans should expect any outcome different from last year, assuming the Tigers do even get a tournament bid in March. In fact, of the regular contributors, only Keith Hornsby (81.8) is shooting better than 70 percent at the line. That's a huge problem, one that will continue to impact the outcomes of games as the season winds down, unless the Tigers find a way to fix it.

The team is now 16-10, has lost on two Wednesdays in a row, and will now finish with three out of five games on the road, including the regular season finale at Kentucky. Entering the conference tournament with 20 wins seemed fairly certain a couple of weeks ago, but now it'd probably take a four-game win streak starting this weekend in order to pull it off.

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