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Sunday, April 21
The Indiana Daily Student

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Mike Woodson cites ‘mindset’ as factor in Indiana basketball’s puzzling free throw woes

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Many of the problems plaguing Indiana men’s basketball this season have concrete causes. 

A lack of perimeter shooting stems from the team’s roster construction and frequent susceptibility to losing offensive rebounds can be attributed to miscommunication and effort. Yet, free throw shooting — an area the Hoosiers have struggled with beyond this season — is more inexplicable. 

Indiana shoots 66% from the line this season, the worst mark in the conference, and a handful of Hoosiers are experiencing career-worst years from the stripe. Sophomore forward Malik Reneau, a 71.4% free throw shooter as a freshman, is down to 64.2% this season. 

Sophomore center Kel’el Ware knocked down free throws at a 71.2% clip at the University of Oregon last season and he’s down to 67.3% with the Hoosiers. One of Indiana’s most tenured players, senior guard Trey Galloway, didn’t shoot worse than 64.4% from the line in his first three seasons, and he’s declined to just under 55% this year. 

“It’s just a mindset. I’ve never seen anything like it in my career,” head coach Mike Woodson said Tuesday morning via Zoom. “When they give you an opportunity to go score a free bucket or a point, 2 points, you got to take advantage of it.” 

The misses aren’t for lack of opportunity. Due to the post-heavy nature of Indiana’s lineup, which usually features two purely interior players on the floor at the same time, the Hoosiers get to the line at an impressive rate.

Indiana’s 22.6 free throws per game ranks 36th in the country, yet its combined free throw percentage of 66.02% checks in at 325 out of 351 teams. This year’s issues from the stripe aren’t an anomaly. 

While the Hoosiers shot 71.1% last season, a little less than average in the Big Ten, they ranked dead-last in 2021-22 and 12th in 2020-21. With forwards Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson being focal points of the offense in previous years and Reneau and Ware shouldering similar roles this season, free throw shooting should conceivably be an area Indiana thrives. 

Yet, the team leaves a considerable number of points on the table virtually every game. According to freshman guard Gabe Cupps, that can’t be ascribed to insufficient training. 

“We shoot a lot of free throws in practice because the coaches, and we, obviously see that that’s something that we can get better at,” Cupps said Sunday after the Hoosiers’ loss to Northwestern. “We get the reps in all week and have been throughout the season.” 

That loss to the Wildcats signaled how detrimental Indiana’s ineptitude from the line can be. While Northwestern shoots 73.6% on free throws this season — a middle of the pack mark in the conference — the team converted at a nearly 79% clip inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. 

Graduate guard Ryan Langborg went 6-of-6 in the final minute to help seal the Wildcats’ road victory, whereas Indiana shot just 57.1% on its home court. If the Hoosiers hadn’t exhibited similar troubles in the past, this season could be chalked up as a fluke. 

Besides freshman forward Mackenzie Mgbako, an 82.9% free throw shooter, Indiana simply can’t find its stroke. Woodson expressed confusion, saying Reneau, Ware and Galloway are skilled enough shooters to where free throws should be a given.

“If the shots were torn up, then that’s different,” Woodson said. “Then you got to work on the mechanics and do a lot of different things in that area. But they don’t have bad shots, so it’s between the ears to me.” 

Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Press (@MattPress23) and columnist Daniel Flick (@ByDanielFlick) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season. 

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