The Orange is playing with a target on its back.
For the entire season, SU has been in the top 10 of the rankings, and each game, the opposing team has stepped it up a notch with its free throw defense.
Syracuse, which shoots 67.7 percent collectively from the line, has been the victim of aggressive free throw defense all season. It is currently ranked 167th in the NCAA at the charity stripe.
“When they put me at the free throw line, no one is guarding me,” Syracuse forward Rick Jackson said. “It’s like taking a shot when you’re completely wide open. Hitting a shot like that is really, really difficult.”
Jackson is widely regarded as Syracuse’s best player, averaging career highs of 13.1 points and 11.8 rebounds a game. He was also recently named to the 2010-11 Wooden Award Midseason Top 30 list.
As a result, he draws the most attention on free throw defense.
Jackson’s felt the pressure and is only shooting 50.8 percent from the free throw line. But he’s not the only one.
James Southerland (50 percent), C.J. Fair (56 percent), Baye Moussa Keita (56 percent) and Fab Melo (51 percent) have also felt the pressure of outstanding free-throw defense.
So, what makes good free throw defense?
“Sometimes, you have to raise both your hands while you’re standing on the block,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said. “Other times, if you stare at the free throw shooter the right way, you can force a miss. We’ve spent countless hours in the offseason just learning how to stare at people the right way.”
Although Syracuse defeated St. John’s 76-59, the Red Storm walked away with a huge moral victory, holding Syracuse to 62 percent from the free throw line.
“We’re still rebuilding,” Lavin said. “But to play free throw defense like that, it’s going to give our guys confidence going into the next game.”
The crowd plays a factor as well.
“One time, I heard someone yell ‘Noonan!’ as I took a free throw,” Southerland said. “I just started laughing. Then, I airballed it.”
Ironically, Mookie Jones, who has pined for playing time, has hit all four of his free throws this season.
“i can beat FT D but coach still won’t play me #transferringtoiona,” Jones posted on his Twitter account.
Editor’s note: In all seriousness, poor free-throw shooting will be the reason why Syracuse loses a few games this season.
In other (real) news from the week:
That’s all for this week, folks. See you at the same time, same place next week.
Editor in Chief