Free throws vital to Tar Heels’ success


Photos from UNC Men’s Basketball’s game against Belmont on November 17th, 2013 at Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Free-throw line. Charity stripe. Foul shot.

Any way it’s put, the 15-foot unguarded shot is a player’s to miss.

And Sunday against Belmont, the No. 24 North Carolina basketball team missed 26 free throws, shooting 45.8 percent to Belmont’s 90.9 percent.

But after the dismal performance from the stripe, coach Roy Williams didn’t change anything about his team’s free-throw preparation leading up to this weekend’s Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament in Uncasville, Conn.

Though Williams can practice foul-shot situations before the games, the simulation can’t fully prepare players for the mental pressure of making the shots during competition.

“If two guys make 81 and 84 percent on their own, I can’t simulate what their thought process is in a game,” Williams said. “We’ve got to be able to handle that part of it. But we shoot (free throws), and I would say that we’re more than likely going to shoot more.”

Sophomore shooting guard J.P. Tokoto, who has seen increased playing time with P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald sitting out with ongoing NCAA eligibility issues, missed a whopping 12 free throws against Belmont, something Williams said has shaken Tokoto’s confidence.

Tokoto connected on two of his seven shots from the floor in his 28 minutes on the court in Sunday’s loss. Since his 13-point season debut, Tokoto’s production has dropped — scoring six points against Holy Cross and eight against Belmont.

With Hairston and McDonald staying in Chapel Hill this weekend as the NCAA continues its investigation, Tokoto and his teammates will have to continue to assume more on-court responsibility.

UNC will face a Richmond team in the semifinal game of the tournament Saturday that defeated Belmont earlier this season 69-61, and boasts two guards that average double figures in scoring.

Belmont sunk 15 3-pointers against UNC last weekend, but Richmond has struggled behind the arc, scoring only 17 3-point buckets in its four games.

“It should get our guys’ attention,” Williams said. “The team that beat us lost to the guys we’re getting to play next.

“They play more of a half-court game … they’re patient and try to move it around and get the shot they want.”

Richmond sends its opponents to the free-throw line just more than 28 times per game, and its opponents have knocked down 70 percent of those shots. By comparison, the Spiders make it to the charity stripe an average of 24 times per game, converting 64 percent of those chances — making successful free-throw shooting vital to the Tar Heels’ success once again.

“That would go down as one of the two worst (free-throw) shooting performances of any team I’ve ever coached,” said Williams about the loss to Belmont. “But we’ve got to try to make sure that we correct any technical problems and hope that we’ve given them some guidance to take care of the mental problems and then go from there.”

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