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Did Hubert Davis Have A Point About Free Throws?

Coaches are never satisfied

After a close loss it’s not unusual for coaches to focus on statistical inequities to illustrate their displeasure with the result. Honed by experience of sport’s what-goes-around, comes-around nature, most are nevertheless apt to moderate their gripes, often citing stats to illustrate post-game objections.

Even chronic complainers like Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim are inclined to bite their tongue. That held true after a narrow home defeat by North Carolina on Jan. 24 in which freshman guard Judah Mintz was called for a rare flagrant foul on a charge with 10 seconds to go, costing Syracuse the ball and free throws.

Syracuse was awarded only 3 foul shots in that contest compared to 23 for UNC. Afterward, the irascible Boeheim responded to a post-game question about the discrepancy at the line by volunteering only, “It’s unusual.”

That was one of 44 games so far this season –- through North Carolina’s visit to Duke and Miami’s to Clemson on Feb. 5 — in which an ACC team took fewer than 10 free throws. Squads on the short end of the foul shooting stick emerged victorious less than a third of the time (14 of 44, .318 percent).

While Boeheim’s reaction to the discrepancy against UNC was muted, a writer for exhibited less restraint, decrying the prejudices of the officiating crew from the “All Carolina Conference” as revealed in a parade of “unbalanced, overzealous” calls. And Boeheim abruptly walked out of his press conference in under 5 minutes when asked another question he didn’t like.

North Carolina’s Hubert Davis displayed similar restraint when confronted with Duke’s 11 of 15 foul shooting performance the other night compared to his team’s 2 of 3 free throws. Only he didn’t wait for a questioner to raise the point.

The second-year coach punctuated his remarks with trumpian misstatement, claiming as he gazed at a stat sheet that “going into the game we had shot 150 more free throws than any other opponent in our conference. We shot three; zero in the second half. That is what I’m looking at.”

Davis returned to this point several times, part of his assertion that “I’m only stating facts.” Only, the central fact of his argument was erroneous. The Heels had tried 543 foul shots compared to runnerup Wake’s 450 attempts among ACC teams, a difference significantly less than what Davis insisted was the case.

And while the coach balked at the suggestion his squad had become a bit too reliant on 3-point shooting at Cameron, it’s a given teams don’t draw as many fouls when relying on outside shots. The Duke game was the second straight in which the Heels tried 27 from the bonusphere (making 7). They lost both. Carolina had previously won against The Citadel, Ohio State and Boston College while trying a similar number of threes.

Duke now is the only ACC squad that’s attempted at least 10 free throws in every game, testament to aggressive play on offense and solid work defensively.

Miami and NC State, among the league’s other top teams, joined UNC in enduring one instance each of single-digit foul shots. Miami beat UNCG while making all four free throws in its second game of the season. And NC State was 5 of 6 in beating Elon, also in November.

The Wolfpack, by the way, lost at Chapel Hill after enduring a prodigious 39-12 free throw discrepancy.

Afterward NC State coach Kevin Keatts diplomatically focused on his team’s performance and a flagrant foul that sent guard Terquavion Smith to the hospital. “I’ve never been involved with a game where a team has taken 39 free throws,” Keatts said. “So that means we have to get a little bit more aggressive. We took 12, we went 12 for 12. And so, you know, we get a little bit more aggressive then maybe we see a different game, maybe we get there 20 times or 25 times and we will be 20 for 20.”

As noted in an earlier chart, the Pack’s line work at the Smith Center matched the most efficient in the ACC this season, no small feat for a road team.

UNFLATTERING LINE DRAWING2023 Results When ACC Team Tried Fewer Than 10 Free Throws(Through Games of Feb. 4)
School W-L Games With Fewer Than 10 FTA
Boston College 0-4 Duke (L), Villanova (L), Duke (L), Miami (L)
Clemson 0-2 South Carolina (L), Miami (L)
Duke 0-0
Florida State 0-3 Central Florida (L), Virginia (L), Georgia Tech (W)
Georgia Tech 0-5 UNC (L), NC State (L, 0-3), Syracuse (L), Clemson (L), Duke (L)
Louisville 0-4 Wright State (L), FSU (L), BC (L), Notre Dame (L)
Miami 1-0 UNCG (W)
North Carolina 0-1 Duke (L)
NC State 1-0 Elon (W)
Notre Dame 3-5 Lipscomb (W), Michigan State (W), Syracuse (L), Georgia (L), FSU (L), Jacksonville (W), Miami (L), Syracuse (L)
Pittsburgh 2-0 Louisville (W), Wake Forest (W)
Syracuse 2-1 Notre Dame (W), Oakland (W), UNC (L)
Virginia 1-1 Pittsburgh (L), FSU (W)
Virginia Tech 3-3 Penn State (W), Coll of Chas (L), Minnesota (W), Dayton (W), BC (L), Virginia (L)
Wake Forest 1-1 Hampton (W), Rutgers (L)
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