Up nine points with 2:12 to go in the game, it appeared the Memphis Tigers would win the National Championship game. With time against them, the Kansas Jayhawks had no choice but to foul to extend the game. As any basketball fan knows, to win a game down the stretch you will have to make free throws.
All season long, despite winning an NCAA record 38 games, Memphis was a terrible free throw shooting team. At one point this season they were 347th out of 350 NCAA teams in free throw shooting percentage. Ouch. Many pundits argued that this Tiger “Dream Team” was good enough to overcome the deficiency. In fact they shot much better during tournament play.
But on Monday night on the biggest stage, they missed four of five free throws allowing Kansas to stay in the game. Mario Chalmers took advantage, hitting a 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left to force overtime. The Jayhawks had all the momentum and controlled the extra period, winning 75-68.
In a sporting event there are often five to ten moments that can change the momentum and outcome of the game. But I’ll disregard that by simply stating the obvious. If you hit your free throws you will win the game. Sure, the opponent could trade 2 for 3 and close the gap, but a free throw is a much higher percentage shot than a contested 3-pointer.
Free throw shooting is truly a lost art. Even guards, traditionally the best shooters on the court have trailed off in recent years.
Perhaps the modern basketball culture has gotten too caught up in alley-oops, step back threes, crossovers and thundering dunks. True, the free throw is not glamorous. It will never appear on a poster, but it wins games. Any player who cares about winning should step back 15 feet and shoot until it becomes natural. As natural as winning a championship.
AP Photos by Mark Humphrey.