Entering the month of February through 21 games, Rutgers was shooting 74.1% from the foul line as a team. They were on pace to have the program’s best season from the free throw line since the 1971-1972 campaign when RU shot 74.3%. The Scarlet Knights were taking advantage of their opportunities at the line and it was an important part of their offensive production.
During a 12 game stretch from mid-December through January, Rutgers made 149 of 191 free throw attempts for a stunning 78.0%.
Unfortunately, Rutgers has since struggled mightily over the past seven games from the charity stripe. They’ve made just 60 of 100 attempts for 60%. After approaching the top 75 nationally, RU is now shooting 71.2% for the season and ranked No. 202 nationally. That would still be the best mark for the program in Steve Pikiell’s seven tenure.
In Big Ten play, Rutgers is down to 69.4% from the line, which is 10th in the league. However, their shooting from the line bottomed out on Thursday night in a disappointing loss to Michigan.
Rutgers was just 5 of 16 from the line for 31.3%. They made just 3 of 12 attempts in the first half when they had a chance to head into the locker room with a lead. Instead, each miss seemed to suck the excitement out of the RAC and even drew groans from fans.
“We’ve been pretty solid shooting the ball from the free throw line. It’s kind of an unusual night, especially here at home,” explained Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell. “We’ve been shooting the ball well here at home. Every time I thought we started getting a little momentum, it was either a missed free throw or turnover, and that obviously didn’t help us. In a game like this, you need those kinds of points.”
The only starter who has continued to shoot really well from the foul line is Cam Spencer. He’s made 13 of 14 attempts during this seven game stretch. The issue with Spencer is he just isn’t getting to the foul line nearly enough. He is an elite shooter from the charity stripe and shooting 92.3% in making 60 of 65 attempts.
Spencer still has a legitimate shot to break the program record for the highest free throw percentage in a single season. Steve Kaplan shot 92.7% from the foul line during the 1969-1970 season. Spencer needs to attempt at least 75 foul shots and is just 10 away with at least 4 games to play.
Derek Simpson has been excellent all season as well in making 31 of 38 attempts for 81.6% from the line. He also doesn’t get to the line nearly enough, having made 5 of 6 attempts over the last seven games.
Cliff Omoruyi missed all four free throw attempts in the loss to Michigan. However, he had made 16 of 23 shots for 69.6% in his previous six games. After last night, he’s shot about the same as his season average during this downturn for Rutgers. Omoruyi is shooting 61.6% in making 77 of 125 attempts. The issue is he taken 60 more attempts than the second most frequent shooter from the line, which is Spencer. That being said, Omoruyi has shown overall improvement from the line after shooting just 55.7% for his career before this season.
After making 27 of 30 free throws for 90% through 21 games, Paul Mulcahy has made just 11 of 22 for 50% over the last seven. He isn’t alone. Caleb McConnell started 27 of 36 for 75.0% but has made just 9 of 15 for 60% over the same seven game stretch. Aundre Hyatt made 31 of 40 for 77.5% from the line during the first 21 games and is just 5 of 11 for 45.5% since.
They also miss Mawot Mag. He made 37 of 50 free throw attempts for 74.0% before missing the last five games due to a season ending injury.
For a team struggling overall on the offensive end, as they’ve shot just 44.0% from two-point range over their last five games, getting points at the foul line is imperative. The most troubling part of Thursday’s loss was that Rutgers seemed to have their confidence as a whole jolted by their poor free throw shooting. And it resulted in their almost unwillingness to attack the rim in the second half.
The stretch run of the season is here. In playing consistently hard and being extremely committed on the defensive end, I’m sure this team is a bit worn down with tired legs. That would certainly impact their free throw shooting. So does the wear and tear of the season. They may have hit the proverbial wall at the line.
“We’re a tough team, we’re resilient and we’ll figure it out,” Pikiell said of Rutgers in general after the loss to Michigan.
A big part of Rutgers bouncing back after losing four of their last five games is scoring more consistently. Part of doing that means getting to the foul line more so. When they get there, taking advantage of every opportunity they get is a must. There are ebbs and flows to every season. If Rutgers wants to get back on track and make a run in March, performing well at the free throw line would be a major boost to their chances in doing that.
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