Free Throws Haunting Tigers

Clemson basketball coach Oliver Purnell knew well before the season started that his team was going struggle with its outside shooting and from the free throw line.

WHAT: Clemson vs. Florida State
WHEN: 7 p.m., Wednesday
WHERE: Tucker Center
TV: None

What he didn't know was that as a program, the Tigers have for the most part always been a bad free throw shooting team.

This season, Clemson is on pace to set the all-time worst free throw shooting performance for a season in school history, which would also set the all-time low in the ACC.

In 1992, the Tigers shot 59.7 percent from the line, which is the lowest in school and conference history. Presently, Clemson holds a 58.0 shooting percentage from the charity stripe.

"We continue to work at it," Purnell said of his team's free throw shooting. "This is not some kind of unique problem we have or that it's the first time in history that we've seen a team that was a poor free throw shooting team or a not-so-good free throw shooting team that can be pretty good. We don't shoot them well, we continue to work at it and that's the best I can tell you."

He's right, this isn't the first time that a team has been bad from the free throw line. In fact, all one needs to do is look deep into the Clemson record books to see how poor the free throw shooting has been over the years for the Tigers.

Consider: In the last 50 seasons of keeping stats, as a team, Clemson has shot over 70 percent from the free throw line just 12 times, with the last time coming in the 2000-01 season when it shot 70.2 percent.

The season of 2000-01 is the only season between 1988 and now where the Tigers shot more than 70 percent.

Moreover, there's been just four times in the last 30 seasons they topped the 70 percent mark.

Clemson is the only of the original eight schools prior to expansion (GT, MD, VA, NC, NCSU, DU, WF, CU) in the ACC that hasn't led the league in free throw shooting.

The best free throw shooting season by the Tigers came in the 81-82 season, when they shot 73.4 percent.

Such numbers caused a reporter to jokingly ask Purnell if he thought there was something contaminated in the water to cause the history.

"There's a haunted lake down here and there's some voodoo going on and a number of those kinds of things," Purnell said sarcastically. "Of course there's nothing wrong with something in the water. I don't know anything about that history. That was then and this is now.

"We've got some problems with free throw shooting now. It has nothing to do with any kind of history or with what went on in the past. It has to do with these players and these coaches and with what we're doing now, and we're not doing it well enough."

The current 58 percent average ranks 324 out of 326 Division I schools. Only Stony Brook (57.9) of the America East Conference and Prairie View A&M (57.3) of the Southwestern Conference are worse.

"If we had Shawan Robinson going to the line 95 percent of the time, we'd be fine," said Purnell of his guard, who leads the ACC with a 92.7 percent. "The guys that are shooting the bulk of our free throws are Akin (Akingbala), Sam (Perry) and probably Vernon (Hamilton), and those three have struggled. Cliff Hammonds has struggled as well. Those are the guys that are going to the line the most."

Perry is shooting 60.9 percent, while Akingbala is shooting 51.3 percent, Hamilton 51.2 percent and Hammonds a dreadful 43.2 percent. Those numbers, with the exception of Hammonds, are far worse when only ACC games are factored.

Maybe these numbers should surprise Clemson fans. After all, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

PROBABLE LINEUPS
Clemson (14-6 overall, 3-4 ACC)
G 3 Vernon Hamilton (6-0, 195) 13.2 ppg, 3.4 apg
G 25 Cliff Hammonds (6-3, 197) 9.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg
C 33 Akin Akingbala (6-9, 240) 10.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg
F 32 Sam Perry (6-5, 208) 6.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg
F 12 Julius Powell (6-9, 205) 4.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg

Florida State (12-5 overall, 3-4 ACC)
G 4 Todd Galloway (5-11, 178) 7.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg
G 3 Isaiah Swann (6-1, 197) 9.3 ppg, 3.6 apg
C 32 Alexander Johnson (6-10, 250) 11.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg
G 21 Jason Rich (6-3, 185) 10.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg
F 12 Al Thornton (6-6, 195) 15.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg


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