Pitt leads Division I in free-throw shooting, and dividends are readily apparent
January 13, 2016 12:00 AM
Sheldon Jeter shoots 93.3 percent from the free throw line.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There are a lot of ways to quantify just how different this Pitt team is than previous teams coached by Jamie Dixon, but none likely capture it more than this:
Pitt leads Division I in free-throw shooting percentage.
That’s not a category the Panthers typically have been at or near the top of the chart, but this team is blessed with many excellent free-throw shooters.
Pitt has made 298 of 376 free throws this season (79.3 percent).
Eight times in the Panthers’ first 15 games, they have made 80 percent or more of their free throws.
Dixon knows that having so many guys who are capable of making free throws is a huge advantage, especially at the end of the games.
“Obviously, it is not a luxury we have had before or I don’t think any team really has,” Dixon said. “We can put five guys out there, and all of them can make free throws and have big guys, or whatever you want to call them, who can make free throws at a higher rate.
“In fact, our bigs I think are our best free-throw shooters on a team that leads the country. It is very good at the end of games, but it is also good at the start of games, too.”
Pitt’s most recent two games offered good examples of its value.
The Panthers beat Georgia Tech, 89-84, and made 25 of 30 (83.3 percent) from the free-throw line.
Georgia Tech made only 8 of 15, so the Panthers outscored the Yellow Jackets by 17 points from the free-throw line.
In their 86-82 win Saturday at Notre Dame, the Panthers made 20 of 24 (83.3) free throws and the Irish made 9 of 14.
That difference proved to be a big factor in the victory.
Dixon said it isn’t just that the Panthers are making free throws, though, it is that they are getting to the line a lot because they are aggressive in getting to the basket. He said that is something he has emphasized.
“The main thing we want to get across and get accomplished is to get to the free-throw line,” Dixon said. “We want to run good offense and get to the foul line. We have to do the right things to put ourselves in position to get to the foul line.
“It is great to be great free-throw shooters, but it is more important to be able to get to the line. There are a lot of great free-throw shooters out there, but most of those guys generally don’t get to the free-throw line. So we have to keep attacking and get to the line.”
Some teams have one or two or maybe even three good free-throw shooters, but Dixon has the ability to put five excellent free-throw shooters on the court together.
And, as he said, the best of the bunch includes two “big guys” in forwards Sheldon Jeter (93.3 percent) and Mike Young (85.7), along with guards Sterling Smith (88.9), James Robinson (81.8) and Cam Johnson (81.4).
Jamel Artis (79.7) and Chris Jones (77.4) are not far behind.
Centers Rafael Maia (54.5) and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa (37.5) are not good free-throw shooters, but neither likely would be on the court late in games when Pitt tries to close out a win.
Young said the Panthers didn’t put any special emphasis on free-throw shooting — the team just had a lot of players with skill who have worked hard to become good shooters at every level.
“I wouldn’t say we emphasized it a lot, it was something I did because I was only at like 69 percent last year, so I wanted to improve,” Young said.
“I really just think we have more shooters and skill guys and, when you have more shooters and skill guys, it just goes naturally with having good free-throw shooting. It is something we take pride in and, at the end of the game, it comes down to free-throw shooting.”
No. 20 Pitt (14-1, 3-0 ACC) plays Thursday at No. 21 Louisville (13-3, 2-1).
Paul Zeise: email@example.com Twitter @paulzeise.
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