Just past the midway point of the regular season, Rutgers has made major improvement in one area that’s been a traditional weakness for the program.
The Scarlet Knights are shooting 73.8% from the foul line as a team through sixteen games.
In the past seven games, Rutgers is shooting a blistering 80.2%. They’ve made 85 of 106 attempts from the charity stripe and gone 5-2 in this games. While RU could improve at getting to the line with only a 23.4% free throw rate in Big Ten play, they are taking advantage of their opportunities.
During this past seven game stretch, the backcourt has been perfect from the foul line.
Paul Mulcahy has made 16 of 16 free throw attempts. Cam Spencer had made 11 of 11 from the line while freshman Derek Simpson has made 8 of 8 from the charity stripe. That combined 35 of 35 from the line accounts for 41.2% of makes that Rutgers has during seven game stretch. It’s extremely impressive as well as a mandate for all three to incorporating getting to the rim and drawing fouls as part of their game.
Mawot Mag has been efficient as well in making 10 of 12 free throw attempts for 83.3%. Even Cliff Omoruyi has shown improvement in making 19 of 28 foul shots for 67.9%.
As for shooting 73.8% from the foul line this season so far, it’s been a collective effort. Five players are shooting above that mark individually.
Cam Spencer is as close to automatic as a shooter can be. He’s made 32 of 33 attempts for 97% from the foul line. The single season program record is held by Steve Kaplan. He shot 92.7% from the foul line during the 1969-1970 season. Spencer needs to attempt at least 75 foul shots to qualify for the record, but he has a legitimate shot to do it.
Paul Mulcahy has not let his shoulder bother him from the line where he has made 21 of 24 free throws for 87.5%.
Derek Simpson had proven reliable in making 26 of 32 attempts for 81.3%.
Caleb McConnell is shooting 77.3% in making 17 of 22 shots from the charity stripe.
Aundre Hyatt has made 27 of 36 free throw attempts for an even 75.0%.
Mawot Mag is shooting right under the team average at 73.5% in making 25 of 34 attempts.
Cliff Omoruyi leads the team in trips to the line and has greatly improved from his freshman season when he shot just 42.4% from the line. He has made 46 of 75 attempts for a 61.3% free throw shooting percentage. Fellow big man Antwone Woolfolk is the only other Scarlet Knight to take double digit free throw attempts. He has made 9 of 17 for 52.9%.
As a team, Rutgers is ranked No. 91 nationally in shooting 73.8%. If RU can finish the season at or near this rate from the foul line, it would be the best foul shooting from a Rutgers team in over 50 years. The last time the Scarlet Knights shot this well from the charity stripe for an entire season was during the 1971-1972 campaign. Rutgers shot 74.3% as a team per sports reference. The great John Somogyi led Rutgers in shooting 78.9% from the foul line on 189 attempts in just 25 games (7.6 attempts per contest).
The program’s best season from the foul line was during 1969-1970 when they shot 76.8% as a team.
Even if they don’t finish above 73%, they’re still on pace for one of the best years from the foul line in a very long time.
As for the Steve Pikiell era, it would be the high water mark by a wide margin. Last season was the best from the foul line in his tenure. RU shot an even 70.0%. It was a major improvement from previous seasons. However, Rutgers was still only No. 231 nationally.
Free throw shooting has been a major issue for years and years. Even during the breakthrough 2019-2020 season, Rutgers only shot 64.6% from the foul line. In Pikiell’s first five seasons, RU shot between just 62.5% and 65.2% from the charity stripe.
The reality is Rutgers has struggled with free throws as a program for decades. The last season a team shot above 70% was during the Fred Hill days. The Scarlet Knights shot 71.8% during the 2008-2009. That ranked No. 73 nationally that season.
Pikiell has mentioned throughout his tenure that he has regularly received emails from fans inquiring and complaining about the team’s poor free throw shooting. This season has proven vastly different so far. While they need to increase their trips to the foul line to maximize this newfound strength, there should be confidence that this Rutgers team can finally take advantage of those opportunities.
With an elite defense (No. 3 nationally), if RU can solidify themselves as an above average free throw shooting team, they’ll be even more dangerous and harder to beat. It’s a change Rutgers fans would be thrilled to see continue now through a deep run in March.
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