What is known as the easiest shot in basketball can be downright costly – if you miss it.
The Hoosiers found that out Thursday when it missed the front end of three one-and-one free-throw situations in the final four minutes of play.
IU led 69-68 with 4:29 left on the clock before freshmen Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston each missed shots from the line. Sophomore guard Verdell Jones followed with another miss, capping a string of shots that could have resulted in as many as six points.
“Certainly the free-throw shooting hurt us,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “Nobody goes to the line to miss fouls shots – especially the guys that went there.”
Purdue went on a 7-0 run while IU failed to make good on its three opportunities from the line.
And while IU faltered at the line, Purdue capitalized.
The Boilermakers were 15-of-20 shooting at the free-throw line in the second half alone. They hit 20 for the game, and Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson buried 16 of those.
But the Boilermakers did leave a bit of light for the Hoosiers when Hummel missed a late free throw that kept the game within one possession and gave IU a final shot.
“Robbie Hummel didn’t go up there late to miss,” Crean said of Purdue’s free throws. “He’s a 90-percent shooter.”
Shooting 13 of 18 for the game, IU didn’t have trouble for its entirety.
The larger problem came in what it did with the few attempts it had while still in striking distance of the No. 8 team in the country.
The Hoosiers were 11-of-13 shooting from the free-throw line in the first half. With only five attempts in the second half, the Hoosiers missed three of them and shot 40 percent.
What was peculiar about the fashion in which it happened was the fact that IU had two of its best shooters at the line.
Hulls made 80 percent of his free throws before tonight.
He was 20-of-25 at the line for the year and has hit all of his free-throw attempts on five occasions this season.
“We were fortunate there when they stepped up – especially Hulls,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “We had the foul away from the basket, Hulls gets a one-and-one and he misses the front end. He’s a great free-throw shooter.”
Jones has established himself as the player IU turns to in late-game scenarios, but he was the third consecutive Hoosier to miss his first try when he stepped up to the line with IU trailing 73-69.
Jones shoots 69 percent from the line and made 10-of-12 tries in the IU game against Illinois on Jan. 30.
“It was very disappointing,” Jones said. “We work on them every day in practice.”
Not every one of the shots was surprising.
Elston has a solid outside shot but hits only 58 percent from the free-throw line.
“We missed crucial one-and-ones with under 4:30 to go,” Crean said. “But we gave ourselves a chance and we played extremely hard.”
Crean’s team stalled on more than one occasion down the stretch, but this one proved the most important. It resulted in the final lead change of the game.
“We could never get momentum at the defensive end, and we couldn’t get momentum at the foul line.”
Painter chalked the Hoosiers’ free-throw woes up to chance. With the way the game unfolded in Assembly Hall, the same seemed to apply to his team’s ability to grab the lead late.
“You have to have a little bit of luck,” he said. “There’s no question in that stretch when they missed those free throws that luck really helped us.”
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