Despite wins, Michigan’s free throw shooting is an area of weakness

Monday, November 19, 2018 - 10:57pm

Senior center Hallie Thome led her team with 25 points against Detroit Mercy.

Senior center Hallie Thome led her team with 25 points against Detroit Mercy. Buy this photo
Annie Klus/Daily

The Wolverines beat Detroit Mercy handedly on Monday night, 95-62, but for much of the first half that result was anything but assured.

The two teams traded baskets deep into the second quarter. The Titans even managed a lead before Michigan rattled off a 20-0 run to end the first half.

Two factors contributed to the Wolverines’ inability to jump out to a more commanding lead in the first fifteen minutes though: missed defensive assignments and poor free throw shooting. The former can be chalked up to spreading themselves too thin on the press — something they seemed to fix at halftime. But the latter is part of a more worrying trend.

Coming into the game, Michigan was 27-for-45 from the charity stripe, exactly 60-percent, a mark tied for 281st out of 349 Division-I teams. A 10-for-19 performance against Detroit Mercy does not help that average.

Within the context of such a blowout, poor free throw shooting might seem like a trivial problem, but as the Wolverines’ schedule heats up in the next week with games against Missouri, and possibly two other top-25 teams, it may come back to bite them.

The struggles at the foul line are more of a confidence issue than anything according to Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico.

“I think that starts to get in your head a bit,” Barnes Arico said. “The key is just to get in the gym to just get your confidence back, get your touch back. And try not to think about the misses.”

Even key contributors and typically-efficient shooters like sophomore guard Deja Church — who shot 74.7-percent last season — and freshmen Naz Hillmon have been susceptible to the trend so far.

“Coach was telling us just now that it’s in our heads, so we just have to shake it off and make ourselves more comfortable at the free throw line,” Hillmon said. “We need to avoid thinking too much about it or too little (about it).”

Senior Hallie Thome added in support of Church: “She’s kinda struggling at the line, but last year she made the hardest free throws. We were down three (against Nebraska) and Deja got fouled at the three-point line, made them, and we went into overtime. So I think it’s just definitely a mental thing.”

The season is young and the sample size is small. But since the Wolverines seem to be hitting on every other cylinder, they are looking to correct their foul-shooting struggles before it manifests into something bigger.

“You’ve been shooting them since you first started playing, since you were a little kid, so it’s something you can almost take for granted,” Barnes Arico said. “Right now, we can’t so we just have to make sure we focus on it a little bit more.”