North Texas Daily

Shooting from the stripe: free throws and the Mean Green

Shooting from the stripe: free throws and the Mean Green

March 06
00:50 2014

Tim Cato // Web Editor

The distance of the three-point line on a basketball court varies from high school to college to the NBA, as does the length and width of the court. But no matter where it is, one thing that never changes on any court is the free throw line – always 15 feet away from the basket.

After shooting 71 percent overall last season, the Mean Green men’s basketball team’s free throw shooting has dropped slightly this season to 67 percent. But with the NCAA average consistently hovering around 69 percent for the past decade, those numbers fall right in the average, according to stats from NCAA.com.

“For the most part, we’ve improved our free throw shooting,” head coach Tony Benford said. “A lot of times, it’s relative to who is shooting.”

Seven of the 11 Mean Green men’s basketball players shoot 60 percent or better, but the team’s overall percentage feels the impact of those who fall below that number.

The main culprits are two junior forwards – Keith Coleman, who has hit just nine of his 24 free throws for 38 percent, and Armani Flannigan, who’s made 11 of his 40 attempts for 28 percent.

“I’ve always struggled with my free throw shooting. Since I was a kid, probably,” Flannigan said. “Everywhere I’ve been tries to correct my technique and give me the right form. I’m still learning.”

Benford said he and his coaching staff have worked with him to tweak his shot form to improve his percentages.

“[I’m] going to the free throw line, trying to use the same routine,” Flannigan said. “[It’s] just having the confidence to go down there and make them.”

Flannigan said a realistic goal he would like to achieve is somewhere between 50 and 65 percent on his free throws. The team’s basketball director of operations Jeff Luster specifically has helped him develop more a even approach.

“[We’re] just trying to get him consistent, do the same thing over and over again, have a set routine and set the ball properly, and then have confidence to let it go,” Luster said.

Benford has his team work on free throws several times each practice. During the team’s water breaks, players will shoot free throws and are required to run if they miss their shots. Free throws are also common right at the end, before the players finish for the afternoon.

Missing two free throws after a UNT player is fouled and goes to the line can completely halt momentum in a game, junior forward Jordan Williams said.

“We miss those two free throws, and they go on a run,” Williams said. “It’s big to be able to hit your free throws, to be ready to get up there and knock them down.”

But Benford and his coaching staff also track the team’s best shooters, especially in the final minutes of a close game.

Sophomore guard Maurice Aniefiok is the team’s leader from the stripe, hitting 25 of his 31 attempts this season for 81 percent. Senior guard Vertrail Vaughns isn’t far behind, shooting 80 percent on his 72 makes out of 90 shots.

Aniefiok and Vaughns have learned to ignore the crowd noise, exhaustion and other distractions. However, that aspect of free throw shooting still causes problems for a player like Flannigan, Luster said.

“It is a lot of mental,” he said. “He’s got to repeat that over and over again to feel confident in himself.”

For Benford himself, he described himself as “pretty good” from the line – but he has one miss that still haunts him.

“Going back to high school, I missed one that could have got us to the championship game,” he said. “I won a couple state championships, but I could have won three straight.”

Feature photo: Junior forward Armani Flannigan goes for a slam dunk during practice at the Super Pit on Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Tim Cato / Web Editor.

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