Pack plays giveaway at charity stripe

Staff WriterJanuary 12, 2010 

— Practice doesn't make perfect when it comes to fixing N.C. State's problems at the free-throw line.

The Wolfpack players can make the shots in practice, and the team works on them constantly, but come game time, it's been more of a "foul" shot than a "free" throw.

State is shooting 64.8 percent from the free-throw line this season, which is the low-water mark for coach Sidney Lowe's four teams.

The Wolfpack missed 10 free throws in an eight-point loss to Virginia on Saturday and a free throw with 2.6 seconds left in a one-point overtime loss to Florida on Jan. 3.

The Pack, 0-2 in the ACC, visits No. 25 Florida State tonight, and Lowe hopes something, anything, will help his team shoot better from the line.

"If you put the time in, you should be able to improve somewhat," Lowe said. "You may not be able to be a great free-throw shooter, but you should be able to get that average up."

Clemson coach Oliver Purnell has become an expert on the subject. He has had talented teams that won games but still consistently ranked last in the ACC in free-throw shooting.

There are minor adjustments that can be made, Purnell said, but it's hard to break old habits.

"The No. 1 thing is having better shooters," Purnell said. "It's difficult to make major changes and put them in pressure situations and expect that to improve."

Saturday's 16-of-26 performance against Virginia was just the latest free-throw struggle for the Wolfpack. State has hit 50 percent or less of its free throws three times this season, with a 6-of-15 effort against Winthrop on Dec. 29 as the low point.

There are two main problems with the poor shooting:

State's two most important players, forward Tracy Smith and guard Javier Gonzalez, are subpar from the line.

State doesn't generate enough offense to leave free points on the floor.

Smith's 91 free-throw attempts rank fourth in the ACC, but he has made only 56, or 61.5 percent. Gonzalez is only slightly better at 64.2 percent (34-of-53).

"If you're going to your main guys, and they're the ones getting fouled, most people feel good about that," Lowe said.

State's offense is designed to feed Smith in the post and have Gonzalez handle the ball. Their best free-throw shooter, wing Scott Wood, has taken only 10 attempts because he doesn't handle the ball nor does he take the ball to the basket.

Even with an improved defensive effort this season, State still doesn't generate a ton of offense with its defense. The Pack's 69.6 scoring average ranks last in the ACC.

The difference between the bottom six in scoring offense is seven points, or a couple of free throws per game.

Senior forward Dennis Horner, who is shooting 76.9 percent, said he has seen the team consistently hit free throws in practice.

"It might be mental," Horner said. "I don't know, we shoot them every day in practice. I don't know what it is, to tell you the truth."

jp.giglio@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8938

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