IU Insider Blog: They're free for a reason

IU Insider Blog: They're free for a reason

Indiana made 45 free throws in the season opener against Chicago State. It only missed 10 that game. Sunday it missed 19 against Stony Brook. How does that happen? Here are my thoughts on the topic.

The unguarded 15-foot shot.

When It's going in like it was against Chicago State in the season opener Nov. 8, it's a beautiful thing. Indiana hit 45-of-55 free throws in the opener against Chicago State.

When it's clanging around like it was Sunday against Stony Brook, however, it can be difficult to watch. With each miss, confidence levels go down and before you know it the basketball hoop has to look like a coffee can to the shooters.

Sunday, IU was 30-of-49 from the free throw line. In the first half, the Hoosiers were 15-of-28. Somehow, IU still won the game by 16 and still led at halftime by six.

Noah Vonleh struggled the most. This is a player that missed all eight of his free throw attempts in the exhibition season. Then in the first three games of the regular season, he had hit 17-of-22 from the stripe, 77.3 percent.

I had always heard that he was a good foul shooter. I had heard that the way he was shooting them in the regular season was a lot more Noah-like than the exhibition statistics.

Sunday, I arrived at Assembly Hall at around 3 p.m. and when I walked into the arena there were two players out there already shooting for IU. Austin Etherington was one and the other was Vonleh.

Vonleh was working on two things: free throws and 3-point shots. His free throws were consistent: swish, swish, swish. The coach that was rebounding for him was telling him the same thing over and over. He wanted him to start his shot, pause for a moment as he came up and then release. When he did that, I didn't see him a miss a single free throw.

Then he went out in the game and made 6-of-14.

Go figure.

I asked Tom Crean if one good performance like IU had against Chicago State makes the free throw shooting against Stony Brook that much more difficult to understand. I just figured for a coach it had to be a head scratcher.

I found Crean's comments particularly interesting.

"It's the old thing about it being contagious,'' Crean said. "I don't think there is any question about that. It just is. But what I don't like about that is when we start getting nervous about it and we start getting a little quiet or we shorten our shot. That's when you have to bring more confidence to each other on the court. You have to walk up and make more reminders. I'm trying to yell at them but they know each other's game more and more now.''

Then Crean said something interesting that frankly I hadn't really thought about. He said he would be far more concerned if Indiana wasn't getting a good number of attempts.

"49 attempts, we'll take those,'' Crean said. "We'll take those, then that would be a problem. What you do is every foul you get you're making it just a little bit harder for that team and you're climbing in their depth.

"So the plus in getting to the line outweighs the negative which is not making them.''

But Crean had a bottom line to his thoughts on the topic, too.

"The bottom line is we're better than that,'' Crean said. "We'll be better than that and we'll continue to work on it the way we have.''

Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch

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