Same Old Syracuse? Free Throw Woes Doom the Orange Again

Jim Boeheim will never hear the end of it—an enduring stigma as attached to his basketball program as salt trucks and snow plows are to the city it occupies:

“Same old Syracuse,” the adage goes.

Right as the Orange had begun to assert itself as the Big East’s best team—and it still is, to be clear—Boeheim’s bunch invited back the very criticism the program has long sought to deflate.

Jan 21, 2013; Syracuse, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Michael Carter-Williams (1) takes a free throw during the second half against the Cincinnati Bearcats at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse defeated Cincinnati 57-55. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

With a second win over Villanova firmly in its grasp, Syracuse unraveled at the free throw line in one fell swoop, inadvertently snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Michael Carter-Williams clanked all three of his free throw attempts in the final 8:20 of regulation, including the front end of a one-and-one with 20 seconds to play that would have iced the game. Instead, the Orange left open the door for a last-second Wildcats comeback, and Jay Wright’s squad didn’t let the opportunity slip away.

Ryan Arcidiacono, who was off all morning and afternoon, buried a corner 3 to force overtime, and the resilient Cats, aided by more Syracuse breakdowns at the line in the extra period, raced past the Orange for their second top-five win of the week. Carter-Williams was the biggest misfeasor of squandered opportunity. The sophomore missed two of his final seven free throws—after sinking six of his first seven—in the game’s final 13 minutes.

Carter-Williams is shooting 72-percent from the free throw line on the season, but just 40-percent from the stripe in high leverage situations. (Note: A high leverage situation is defined as any possession or shot occurring when there are fewer than five minutes remaining in the game and the scoring margin is within six points). In all, Syracuse is shooting 47-percent from the line in high leverage spots this season, a bugaboo that threatens to jeopardize the team’s Final Four chances once again. The Orange had hit all nine of its free throws in the first half and 19 of the team’s first 24, but more costly misses in crunch time swung the momentum of the game.

Poor free throw shooting is an all-too familiar vice for Boeheim’s program. Syracuse hasn’t shot better than 70-percent from the free throw line since 2000-01, when a 25-win team led by Preston Shumpert shot a sparkling 71-percent. SU is the only high-major program to shoot worse than 70-percent in each of the 12 seasons during that span.

Boeheim’s system-oriented recruiting philosophy, which is tailored specifically towards equipping his zone, certainly has its drawbacks. Striking out on capable free throw shooters with the temerity to bury one-and-ones in the clutch has been the biggest downside of all.

If the latest free throw woes in Central New York don’t self-correct over the next two months, yet another Syracuse team of Final Four caliber is bound to fall short because of a nagging stigma that won’t go away.

Topics: Basketball, Syracuse Orange

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