Monday, August 21, 2017

Free throws remain a concern for WVU

WVU's Jaysean Paige (5) preparing to shoot a free throw against Oklahoma (Photo Credit: Jeff Ruff, BGS)

WVU’s Jaysean Paige (5) preparing to shoot a free throw against Oklahoma
(Photo Credit: Jeff Ruff, BGS)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.– The sixth-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers have lost two straight games. During those games, WVU has struggled from the free throw line.

In fact, the Mountaineers missed shots that could have been the difference in those losses.

WVU is 21-of-45 from line in its last two game. The Mountaineers lost those games by a combined nine points.

“Shots wasn’t falling, senior forward Jonathan Holton said. “Free throws, we got to do a lot better the free throw line. We just need to get the pep back in our step and get back on the floor.”

Against Texas, the Mountaineers went eight of 23 from the line.

“Eight of 23 free throws. That’s the game right there,” junior forward Devin Williams said.

Williams is most likely right. If WVU makes those free throws, the outcome against both Oklahoma and Texas could have been very different.

Where have the Mountaineers’ struggles come from? Is it all mental or the pressure of being on top?

Holton believes it’s just a matter of slowing down and getting back in the rhythm of things.

“We just got to take our time, slow down,” he said. “We got to get a good practice tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday and just get back in the rhythm. We just got to slow down, stop rushing and just start making them. Because we make free throws, it will help our average out a lot more.”

The 6-foot-7, 220-pound forward believes it’s all in good or bad habits that him and his teammates are developing and not the pressure of the game itself.

“It’s all in habits,” Holton said. “Like coach Huggins says you build bad habits, you’re going to stick to it. You build good habits. You’re going to stick to it. So as long as you got good habits and you start working on them, it will get a lot better.”

WVU's Elijah Macon (45) preparing to shoot a free throw against Texas (Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

WVU’s Elijah Macon (45) preparing to shoot a free throw against Texas
(Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

Both sophomores Daxter Miles Jr. and Elijah Macon believe the foul shooting struggles are mental issues that WVU needs to right.

“Coach said all the time that free throws are a mental thing,” said Miles. “Just got to work at. Just get better at it so just got to get back in the gym.”

“When you think about it, you’re not really supposed to think about it, you just got to keep shooting them until you get your confidence really,” Macon added. “And I think that’s pretty much what it was. I think that it was just all mental, getting up there trying to do right for the coaches, trying to get a flow into the game. I think we was all thinking too much and rushing our shots.”

Head coach Bob Huggins iterated a similar sentiment during his press conference after the Texas loss.

“I have always thought, as long as I’ve done this, when you make easy shots and when you can’t make free throws, you’re not mentally into what you’re doing,” he said. “And we weren’t mentally into what we were doing.”

Daxter Miles Jr. (4) shoot free throws against Texas (Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

Daxter Miles Jr. (4) shoot free throws against Texas
(Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

The Mountaineers work on free throw shooting every practice.

“We are supposed to make 100 a day, Holton said. “And if we make extra, we make extra. 100 a day is guaranteed. We must make a 100.”

What more can WVU do to fix the problem?

“Shoot a thousand a day,” sophomore forward Elijah Macon joked about what to do about the free throw issues.

Macon has struggled from the line all season. The 6-foot-9 forward has made just 27-of-61 free throws, which is a dreaded 44 percent.

Macon knows this is an area of his game he needs to improve.

“Definitely me, it’s something that I need to work on every day,” he said. “As a team, I don’t think nobody was focused.

“We could all get in and shoot a little extra, but we are supposed to shoot a 100 before and 100 after. So that everybody can see that you made 100.”

If the Mountaineers want a shot at the Big 12 championship or a National Championship, they will have to fix their shooting woes sooner rather than later.

The schedule isn’t getting any easier any time soon.

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