Ole Miss (6-0) ran away from Rutgers on Saturday, 80-67, in an important non-conference game at home. But the margin of victory could have been much greater.
That is, if the Rebels had found some success at the free throw line.
Ole Miss was just 17 of 39 from the charity stripe in the win, good for 44 percent. An improvement from the first half, though, when the Rebels managed just six makes in 21 tries, a 29 percent clip.
“That was horrible,” senior forward Murphy Holloway said. “I played a big part in that. That was horrible.”
The free throw shooting woes aren’t a team-wide issue, according to head coach Andy Kennedy. No, the numbers, he said, are skewed by Holloway and Reginald Buckner, a pair of seniors who have struggled with freebies throughout their respective careers.
“It's two guys. You've got to make a free throw,” Kennedy said. “I don't care how you shoot them; make 'em. If we want to win, make 'em. It's been the same old song and dance for four years.”
Holloway was a 58 percent free throw shooter as a freshman at Ole Miss. However, he’s done no better than 51 percent in any season since, including a 45.9 percent average this season.
Buckner, meanwhile, is currently topping his career best 49.2 percent mark set as a freshman. He’s made 15 of his 30 attempts so far.
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“We have to have those guys,” Kennedy said. “I didn't recruit them to be free throw shooters. I recruited the other things. The free throw shooting cannot be such an Achilles heel, because I think it spreads through our team. All of the sudden guys get the yips a little bit.”
Ole Miss is second in the country in scoring offense, averaging 87.0 points per game. But at the free throw line, with their 63 percent success rate, the Rebels are 295th. They’re 12th in the Southeastern Conference.
“It's all a mind thing, that's how I feel,” sophomore guard Ladarius White said. “I even missed two free throws (against Rutgers). I'm a pretty good free throw shooter, man. I even missed two.”
Ole Miss has two shooters in its starting five -- Marshall Henderson and Nick Williams -- making at least 86 percent of their free throw attempts. Freshman Martavious Newby is 10 of 11, while fellow freshman Anthony Perez is 7 of 10.
Sophomore point guard Jarvis Summers was reliable last season at 68 percent. So far in 2012, however, he’s made just 8 of 18. White is 3 of 6.
But the root of the problem, it seems, is Holloway and Buckner. Just ask Rutgers head coach Mike Rice, who said his Scarlet Knights entered Saturday’s game with a game plan to foul.
“We did say no layups,” he said. “Make no mistakes about it; there were no layups. We wanted to make them make free throws, especially their bigs.”