Water breaks during Maryland men’s basketball practices are never really breaks, because that’s when the Terrapins shoot free throws. While half the team rehydrates, the other half lines up at both the side and main baskets, hoisting five foul shots at a time. A student manager stands at the center circle, clipboard in hand, and a call-and-response session ensues as everyone shouts out their total.
Since he left Wichita State in 2007, Coach Mark Turgeon’s teams have never been particularly great free throw shooters, though this is not for lack of dedicated practice time. But at both Texas A&M (2007-2011) and Maryland (2011-present), Turgeon has never had a group shoot reach 70 percent from the stripe, and this current season the Terrapins have posted the worst mark of Turgeon’s career: 62.8 percent, which ranks 310th nationally.
“It’s really disappointing,” Turgeon said Wednesday.
Maryland (4-2) managed just fine in winning the Paradise Jam at the U.S. Virgin Islands this week, but free throw shooting has become a glaring hole entering Friday’s home matchup against Morgan State. Ideally, Turgeon said, his teams would shoot 75 percent outside of post players Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare, and the Terps are at 74.2 percent without them.
Mitchell, who has attempted the second-most free throws this season behind Dez Wells, and Cleare are shooting just 28 percent and 54.5 percent from the line, respectively. Against Marist in the Paradise Jam opener, Mitchell made just 2 of 9 attempts.
“I was really worried about it going into the Providence game because they shot free throws so well,” Turgeon said. “I thought it could be the difference in the game. It’s something we have to get better at. Guys have to step up. We’re going to shoot a lot of them today and we’ll continue to shoot them. It’s between the ears with Charles right now, maybe with Shaq. I think it was a little bit of fatigue in a couple of the games.”
Aside from volume shooting in pressure situations – like practicing them immediately after a grueling drill – little can be reasonably be done to improve Maryland’s free throw shooting. Wells, currently second on the team with an 80 percent rate, began the season 19 for 20 from the line but is just 5 for 10 over the past two games. However, the junior guard swished two against the Friars to help clinch the championship.
Sophomore Jake Layman (82.4 percent) leads the Terps in this category and junior Evan Smotrycz is close behind (73.7). Junior guard Nick Faust and freshman Roddy Peters, shooting 66.7 and 60 percent, respectively, has room for improvement.
“Unfortunately it’s contagious, so it’s about the right guys getting fouled at the right time,” Turgeon said. “If we get some guys early who are going to flow, we’re 10 for 10 at halftime, it’s pretty contagious. But you’re 6 for 13 at halftime that’s contagious, too. A lot of it is getting fouled and the timing, too. We made just enough the other night. Dez made two big ones and Jake made the one. I feel confident we’re going to be a very good foul-shooting team as the season goes on.”