Wichita State Shockers

Shockers cashing in at the line

Free-throw problems are complex. Could be mental. Could be physical. Everybody offers a solution, because everybody thinks free throws should be easy.

When the free throws are falling, it all seems so simple. Step up the line and shoot. That's where most of the Wichita State players are — a nice, comfortable free-throw shooting place.

"When you get shots, you've got to make them, especially the open ones," WSU junior Gabe Blair said. "Free throws are the most open ones you're going to get."

WSU (9-1) is shooting 76.4 percent after 10 games, accuracy tied for 20th nationally. In the past four games, the Shockers are 77 of 91 (84.6 percent). It's a big step up from last season's 68.6 percent and 67.5 two seasons ago.

"That will win a lot of basketball games," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.

Like many of the improvements, Marshall points to experience. No longer are the Shockers the immature bunch who missed 13 of 24 free throws in a three-point loss to UMKC last season. Or the team that only took two and missed both in a nine-point loss to TCU. Or the team that melted down at the line two seasons ago in an overtime loss at Indiana State.

The Shockers are both making free throws and taking more. Last season, opponents shot 69 more free throws than WSU and made 56 more. After 10 games, WSU is outscoring opponents by 18 points (162-144) on one more attempt (212-211).

"I know a good stat is being able to make more free throws than your opponent attempts," Marshall said. "My teams have not always done that, have rarely done that, because we shoot a fair amount of three-point shots. At the same time, I don't want there to be a (large) discrepancy."

The best Shocker shooters credit practice. Practices often end with every player needing to make 40 out of 50 free throws. Or Marshall will choose two or three Shockers who must make both ends of a one-and-one to avoid sprints.

"Everybody is focusing on making their free throws," WSU guard Clevin Hannah said. "More work. More reps."

Hannah is WSU's leader, making 20 of 22 (90.9 percent) this season. He shot 73.6 percent as a junior. Forward J.T. Durley is up to 89.3 percent (25 of 28) after making 67.7 percent last season.

"It's just a confidence thing," Durley said. "I've always been a pretty good free-throw shooter, but I guess it's just not showing up until now."

Blair has made the biggest jump after shooting 62.5 percent in two seasons at East Carolina. As a Shocker, he is 18 of 23 (78.3 percent). He uses an unorthodox style that looks awkward. It is working, especially now that he is more patient at the line and sticks to his routine of dribbling once, placing his foot in the right spot and shooting.

"At ECU, I was a good shooter, but I thought there were times I didn't take my time shooting my shot," he said. "Now I feel I'm taking my time, and it's going in for me. What really matters to me is blocking everything out and worrying about making one shot at a time."

The Shockers will need to shoot well from the line in Saturday's game against No. 16 Texas Tech. The Red Raiders (9-0) are No. 33 nationally, making 74.5 percent. They are outscoring opponents 158-123 at the line.

WSU is one of three Missouri Valley Conference teams in the top 20. No. 6 Drake is shooting 78.8 percent and No. 10 Indiana State is shooting 77.8.