Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Your Free Throws Ain't Free

For the second consecutive season, ESPN did the most awesomest thing in the history of awesome by broadcasting college basketball for 24 straight hours beginning at midnight on Monday night/technically Tuesday morning for the college basketball tip-off. Sadly, I didn't get to watch most of the games because I work … and there was one game I really, really wanted to see more than the rest: Temple at No. 19 Georgetown.

Unfortunately, the game started at 4. I work until 5. So I missed the entire first half. From what I hear, I didn't miss much (the score was 19-13 in favor of the Hoyas at halftime). But I did make it home in time to watch the final 6 minutes and 36 seconds. From what I saw, Temple certainly won't be a pushover this season, even with the loss of leading scoring Dionte Christmas.

Now that Christmas, Semaj Inge and Sergio Olmos are gone, this team belongs to Ryan Brooks and Lavoy Allen, and they'll be expected to carry the load all season long for the Owls. Unfortunately yesterday, Brooks struggled in an ugly game, going 2-14 from the field, 1-9 from three and posting just 6 points. But Lavoy Allen, in the time I saw, was the best player on the floor for Temple and arguably as good as anyone Georgetown threw out there, super sophomore Greg Monroe included. Allen led the Owls with 12 points on 5-10 from the field, nabbed a game-high 14 rebounds (8 of them offensive) and added three assists and two steals to boot, including one late in the second half on a great denial of Monroe, working around him and snatching the entry pass.

Even more impressively, Allen was tasked with guarding Monroe in the final 6-plus minutes, and I can only assume the game, and locked him down (with the exception of the game-winner). Monroe struggled mightily, scoring just 11 points on 4-10 shooting, and Allen beat him on the glass too, with his 14 boards to Monroe's 9.

Sadly, Allen struggled in one area, and it was the area that cost Temple the game. They lost a heartbreaker 46-45 for one reason and one reason only: free throws. Allen, who had an otherwise superb game, went just 2-5 from the line, missing two crucial ones late in the second half. With the game tied, Allen got position underneath, nabbed an offensive board, put the ball up and in to give the Owls a 44-42 lead, and was fouled. But he missed the free throw. Then, a couple possessions later, Allen made that steal against Monroe and was fouled. He missed the front end of a one-and-one, again failing to extend the lead and put the Hoyas away, and that would be a common theme for Temple in the final minutes:

After a Hoya miss, Jefferson was fouled going to the basket. The freshman missed the first, but connected on the second to make it 45-42 with 2:21 on the clock.

Two free throws by Wright cut the margin to one, 45-44, The teams then swapped turnovers before the Owls missed two treys, one by Brooks and one by Williams. Wright then missed from long-range with the long rebound finding its way to Ramone Moore heading down court. The sophomore guard pulled up with 23.7 seconds to play and was fouled.

With a chance to push the lead further, Moore missed from the line, the Owls' fourth missed free throw over the final four-and-a-half minutes.

After another empty trip to the line, Georgetown got the ball to Monroe going to the basket, and the sophomore who had not even reached double digits to that point, hit what turned out to be the game-winner with less than 7 seconds to play. Temple had one last chance, but they certainly didn't execute. Luis Guzman took the inbound and raced down court, running right into two Georgetown defenders, who tied him up. The possession arrow was in Georgetown's favor, and the game was basically over when Monroe was fouled with .3 seconds left on the inbound pass.

I have a feeling Temple will be doing nothing but shooting free throws for the next week at practice. At least they should be. Well, maybe just shooting in general. Looking at the box score, that was one of the most horrifying basketball games ever. Neither team could score to save their lives. Temple shot a pathetic 18-56 (32.1 percent) from the field and an even worse 3-23 from three (13 percent). Georgetown didn't fair much better, going 15-42 from the field (35.7 percent) and 3-18 from three (16.7 percent). And as bad those numbers are, you can call the shooting a push. Where Temple lost the game was at the line. The Owls went an embarrassing 6-13 from the line (46.2 percent), missing a ridiculous amount of crucial ones down the stretch. Conversely, Georgetown made more free throws than they missed, though they hardly lit it up: 13-19 (68.4 percent). That was the difference in the game.

I have to tell you, nothing bothers me more in basketball than missed free throws. Sure, everyone misses one every now and then, so I don't expect teams to be perfect, but in my opinion, there's no excuse for a team to shoot below 70 percent from the line. None. Foul shots are easy. They really are. I don't care what anyone says, no matter what the excuses may be: tired legs, pressure, blah, blah, blah. Every single free throw is exactly the same — same distance, same size/weight ball, same 10-foot net. Making free throws is repetition. There is no one guarding you. The shot is always the same. You should be able to make the vast majority of them with ease. I can go to a court right now, having not picked up a basketball since the summer, and make 7 out of 10. I have no doubt about this. And if I can do it, people who play and practice basketball every single day should be able to do it. Seriously, make your damn free throws.

Secondly, I know time was limited for Temple on that final possession, but the way he was playing, I think Fran Dunphy had to draw up a play to find a way to get Lavoy Allen the ball. He was the best player on the floor and was easily having the best shooting game. Instead, he put the ball in Guzman's hands and whether it was the designed play or not, put the final attempt in his hands too. Guzman got denied, and he finished the game with 0 points on 0-3 from the field. The senior point guard had a fine game besides that — 5 rebounds, 6 assists, just 2 turnovers, a steal in 36 minutes — but he should not have had the ball in his hands to decide the game. In fact, you have to question why Juan Fernandez, who has a much better and more reliable shot than Guzman, wasn't in the game. And why you wouldn't put the game in the hands of the leaders, either Allen or even Brooks, despite his struggles. All I know is I had no confidence Guzman would get the job done, and that proved to be warranted.

Certainly, there's a lot of positives to take away from the game. Temple stayed right there with the 19th-ranked Hoyas on their home floor, the team played tremendous defense, and Allen showed he's ready to lead. But that was a winnable game. Actually, it wasn't just a winnable game, it was a game the Owls should have won. They held a lead late, played great defense and made mostly the right decisions. They simply couldn't hit their free throws and didn't let their best players decide it in the end.

Thankfully, this is just the second game of the season, so there's plenty of time to work on correcting the mistakes Temple made and to work in the younger guys on the team. It just sucks as a fan that they had a golden opportunity to top the ranked Hoyas on their own floor and couldn't finish the job. Still, I'm pumped that college basketball is back.

BallHype: hype it up!

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