Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tigers gradually improving at the line

They backslide occasionally, but Clemson’s basketball players slowly have stopped shooting their toes off at the free-throw line.

Once a notoriously errant foul-shooting program, the Tigers (13-6 overall, 2-3 ACC) are creeping toward the 70-percent conversion rate as they await N.C. State (12-7, 2-3) tonight for a 7 o’clock game.

With regulars Demontez Stitt, Milton Jennings, Devin Booker and currently injured Tanner Smith (knee) all at or above 71.2, the Tigers are shooting 67.8 percent as a team after a few shaky showings in early season.

That’s up from last season’s 66.1 percent and an impressive increase over 2007-08 (62.3 percent), 2006-07 (57.3 percent) and 2005-06 (61.2 percent). The team’s high-water mark in recent history was 68.1 in 2008-09.

Stitt, a senior guard, credits the improvement to a concerted practice routine that began after ‘06-’07 by previous coach Oliver Purnell and was emphasized by his replacement, Brad Brownell.

“We want to become a team that wins games at the line, not lose games there,” Stitt said.

The ACC leader, at 75.8 percent, is Duke, followed by Wake Forest (74.7).At the bottom are Maryland (63.3) and North Carolina (64.2). The Wolfpack (70.7) is eighth among the 12 teams.

But miss for miss, Clemson probably has suffered more self-inflicted damage over the past few seasons than any team in the league.

After that ’06-’07 season, Purnell said his team (7-9, ACC, 25-11 overall) would have won 30 games simply by shooting 60 percent at the line.

But as their last two outings prove, the Tigs still have a few miles to go. In a 75-65 loss at Carolina on Jan. 18 and a 79-77 loss at Maryland on Saturday, they combined to miss 11 of 26 chances.

Caulton Tudor, Staff Columnist