Foul play: Terps converting only 53.4% of free throws

ACC notebook

UM is seeking remedy before conference play

youth carrying Clemson

November 30, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

With defenders pressuring them or thrusting a distracting hand in their faces, the Maryland Terrapins have fared pretty well as shooters.

The No. 5 Terps have converted 45.2 percent of their overall attempts, including a solid 36.2 percent from three-point range, which is from 19 feet, 9 inches and beyond.

Now, if Maryland (4-1) could only take care of the easiest shot in the game -- the unguarded 15-footer, otherwise known as the free throw.

The problem is getting a little spooky in College Park. After making only 12 of 24 foul shots in Tuesday's 76-63 victory over No. 2 Illinois, the Terps have now made an anemic 53.4 percent of their free throws. Take away guard Juan Dixon's 13-for-14 showing, and Maryland is shooting just 48 percent from the line.

Sloppy foul shooting was the only thing that prevented Maryland from blowing the Fighting Illini out of Cole Field House. Sloppy foul shooting was the only thing that allowed Illinois to creep within eight points in a second half otherwise dominated by Maryland.

"If you have any suggestions, I'm open," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "Foul shooting is nuts. It's the most psychological part of the game. We shoot them well in practice, but there are no guarantees [in games]. I've been doing this for a long time. I don't know how that works. Each guy has to do his part."

Williams admitted he was worried about getting into a close game against Illinois, since the Fighting Illini came into College Park shooting 75 percent at the foul line. Williams knows that, unless Maryland corrects the problem -- be it technique, lack of concentration or confidence, whatever -- his worries will worsen as the Terps get into their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule.

"It must have started [the problem] against Arizona [in the season opener]," said junior guard Drew Nicholas, who went 0-for-4 at the line that night and is just 3-for-8 (37.5 percent) on the year.

Nicholas shot 70.2 percent at the line a year ago. Senior forward Byron Mouton is in a similar funk. He has missed eight of 14 free throws after shooting 78 percent last season. Things are so bad that senior center Lonny Baxter, who had made a pedestrian 58.9 percent through his first three seasons, is above the team average with a 54.8 percent efficiency at the line.

Seven of Maryland's nine top scorers are back from a Final Four team that made 69.6 percent of its free throws. So things should get better, right?

Youthful Tigers

The Clemson Tigers began the season knowing they would have to get by on youth -- lots of it. Then, injuries to two of their more experienced players rendered the Tigers even more inexperienced.

But despite missing two starters in sophomore guard Tony Stockman and guard/forward Jamar McKnight, Clemson's lone senior, the Tigers erased a 10-point halftime deficit at Penn State on Wednesday and beat the Nittany Lions, 79-66, to help the ACC win the Big Ten challenge by a 5-3 count.

McKnight, who was averaging 9.8 points and four rebounds before twisting a knee in practice two days before the Penn State game, should return for Sunday's ACC opener at No. 1 Duke. But Clemson probably will have to cope for another two to three weeks without Stockman, who had surgery to repair torn cartilage his right knee, which he injured in a loss to LaSalle 11 days ago.

"Our freshman and sophomores are as good as any in the conference. They are as good a bunch of people as I've ever been around," said Clemson coach Larry Shyatt, whose team consists of eight freshmen or first-year players.

The Tigers (4-1) need Stockman to make any kind of dent in the ACC standings. The team's leading returning scorer, Stockman had made 50 percent of his three-point shots before getting hurt. McKnight is the next-best shooter from beyond the arc.

In the meantime, 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Chris Hobbs is picking up the slack. He is averaging 12 points and 6.5 rebounds, and his double double carried Clemson past Penn State.

No brickmason

With Majestic Mapp sitting out a second consecutive season because of a knee injury, Virginia had to turn to junior Roger Mason Jr. to take over point guard duty. And Mason, who backed up Donald Hand a year ago but is known primarily as one of the league's pure scorers, could enhance his all-ACC credentials in the role of court general.

Although the Cavaliers have yet to be tested during their 3-0 start against Wagner, East Tennessee State and Howard, Mason is for real. In addition to averaging 21.7 points on 54 percent shooting and 91 percent free-throw shooting, he is averaging 5.7 assists. Now he needs to lower his four-turnover average.

Keep an eye on Mason. As a sophomore, he ranked sixth in the conference in scoring, led the league in foul shooting percentage and made third-team All-ACC. As a junior, he looks like a budding star.

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