Egbunu, who is normally a force down low, is a regular at the foul line in games. But, turning those ‘free’ trips into points hasn’t been that given for the big man. He is shooting just 56% from the free throw line this season.
On Saturday, he started 0-4 from the line, but come crunch time, he was called upon to be a force down low and when they needed him most to make the free throws he did. Egbunu sank five of his hast six free throws in the game including four in the last two minutes to help seal the 68-62 win over LSU.
“I just stayed with it,” Egbunu said about making his final shots. “I was missing the free throws at first. It had a little bit to do with me bending my knees. The coaches told me that at half time and I made the adjustment. That is what was making my free throws short and I was leaving it flat. He told me to put a little air under it and I tried to do that and they fell in.”
“We all put up a good effort as a team. My whole focus was to not let my teammates down. I had the opportunity to step up to the free throw line and make free throws. I just believed in myself and my teammates believed in me.”
Egbunu who finished with 13 points and four rebounds on the day was coming off of a tough game on the road at Tennessee. The Volunteers continually crashed on him with two, three, and even four defenders when he caught the ball in the post. It frustrated Egbunu and he didn’t do some of the things he needed to do in those situations.
He understands it is part of his maturation as a player and things he has to learn.
“It is just an adjustment for me. It is an area of my game I have to continue to work on… reading the defense. A lot of times when teams do that I need to kick it out or just turn around and shoot a jump hook. It’s just an area of my game I need to work on.”
Encouragement from his fellow players went a long way on Saturday.
“My teammates lifted me up,” he said following the game. “I had a bad game against Tennessee and most of my teammates told me to just be confident in myself and continue to play. I feel like they did a good job in lifting and keeping me confident. When I wasn’t making free throws they told me to keep shooting and believe in myself and I did that.”
And that confidence led to a big finish on Saturday with the four free throws and forcing one of LSU freshman star Ben Simmons’ turnovers late in the contest which turned out to be a huge turnover in the course of the game.
“It was a team effort,” Egbunu said. “I had the opportunity at the end of the game to step up and make free throws and I did that. I feel like we played well as a team. We played hard. A lot of guys gave us a lot of productive energy. Leon had a really good game. Overall I feel like it was a great team effort.”
In all, the game was a stark contrast from three days earlier when they were helpless on defense. The Gators pride themselves on the defensive side of the ball and really allowed Tennessee to dictate the game completely. Then against the best offensive team in the league (LSU) they held the Tigers to 22 points under their season average.
According to Egbunu, Coach White got his message across.
“We knew we didn’t play with the same energy as we used to,” Egbunu said, “We didn’t show who we are as a team. We tried to come out and play really hard and I feel like we did a good job of that tonight.”
“(Coach White said to) just focus our energy,” he said. “We came out in the Tennessee game without a lot of energy. Today we played with a lot more energy and focused on doing our jobs. I felt like that really helped us.”
Hopefully they have learned from the debacle that was the road loss at Tennessee. They know what they have to do.
“We just have to continue to get better. Preparation is key. We have to practice hard and make each other play harder.”