That Georgia Tech has won three of its past five games is feat enough, considering that the Yellow Jackets won four ACC games all last season.
More remarkable, though, is that Tech had opportunities to take the other two, losing to Clemson 63-60 and Florida State 56-54. There is no shortage of ways that the Jackets could have made up those points, but the most obvious were squandered at the free-throw line, where Tech made a combined 19 of 32 attempts in those two games.
“It’s an Achilles heel for us right now,” coach Brian Gregory said. “We should be a better free-throw shooting team.”
The Jackets are, instead, among the poorest. A year after finishing last in the ACC in free-throw shooting at 65.4 percent, Tech is faring even worse this season at 63.8 percent – last again in the ACC and, through Sunday’s games, 312th out of 345 teams in Division I. The Jackets, who play Clemson at home Thursday, are hoping to stack a few more wins together and push their way up the ACC standings. Doing a little better at the line will help.
“Definitely once those close games come around, we need to be able to hit those, especially when we have the lead,” center Daniel Miller said. “They’re going to be fouling us trying to get us to the line. That’s going to be their game plan because of our past games.”
Whether or not Virginia Tech was intentionally fouling, the Jackets’ foul-shooting adventures aided the Hokies’ comeback attempt Saturday in Blacksburg, Va. After the Jackets built a 25-point lead with 16:27 to play, they missed five of their next six free-throws as the Hokies went on a 15-1 run to close the gap to 11 points with 10:24. After the Jackets stabilized, guard Mfon Udofia did make four of five free throws in the final minute to help seal the game, but the Jackets were 12-for-22 in the game.
In the loss to Clemson, Tech was 10-for-17. Most glaringly, Udofia was 1-for-2 with 17.2 seconds remaining when two free throws would have tied the game. Down one, Tech had to foul, which allowed Clemson to take a three-point lead with 16.4 seconds to go. Tech guard Brandon Reed missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Against Florida State, the Jackets made nine of 15. With 4:50 left and the score tied, forward Marcus Georges-Hunt was fouled taking a 3-pointer. He missed all three and then FSU guard Michael Snaer hit a 3-pointer for a potential six-point swing. The Jackets never led after that point.
Tech’s lack of proficiency is not for a lack of effort. Gregory has them shoot between practice segments, when the team is tired and then at the end of practice. He has begun charting the attempts more regularly in the past three weeks, and players who can’t hit 80 percent run sprints.
“For the most part, we don’t have a lot of guys running,” Gregory said.
What confounds Gregory is that Tech has players with good shooting form, like Georges-Hunt, Udofia and Miller, but they’re making 67.2 percent, 66.2 percent and 63.0 percent, respectively. A year ago, Miller hit 76.2 percent. Further, the Jackets have had their moments, making 16 of 19 against St. Mary’s and 12 of 16 at N.C. State’s raucous PNC Arena.
Said Miller, “We’ve just got to focus in.”
To Gregory, who made 81.6 percent during his playing days at Oakland University in Michigan, a good free-throw shooting team should make 70 percent. In his eight seasons at Dayton, his teams had a range of 64.1 percent to 72.3 percent.
“It’s always a touchy subject, because you don’t want to get into a guy’s head and stuff,” he said.
Tech can take comfort in this much: Jackets’ opponents are making 63.9 percent, also worst in the ACC.
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