Irish tempting fate at FT line

Notre Dame has several quality free-throw shooting options, including Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, and Steve Vasturia, all of whom are 74 percent or better. All, however, have had crucial misses late in games, and Demetrius Jackson has done the same in at least three late-game scenarios.

Every shot I’ve taken has led me to
This moment since I was four feet high
Big Dee is watching I remember what he
Taught me don’t let them see you cry

And you step to the line
And you step to the line

In 13 conference games, Notre Dame has played 10 with the game in doubt down the stretch, excluding blowout victories at home versus Florida State, on the road against Virginia Tech, and the spanking Duke administered to the Irish in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Of the other 10, the Irish have underperformed in half of those games with the game on the line from the free-throw line. None have resulted in a Notre Dame loss, although the Irish are tempting fate.

It started with the home game against Georgia Tech on Jan. 3 when the Irish made just 9-of-15 over the final six minutes of regulation, and then in the first and second overtime of Notre Dame’s 83-76 victory over the Yellow Jackets.

It nearly cost them at North Carolina after converting their first 15 attempts. It could have been a losing factor at home against Miami, and in the home conquest of Duke. It showed itself again at Clemson earlier this week.

Notre Dame has fallen to 10th in the ACC in free-throw percentage (in conference games only), converting 68.8 percent of its attempts (159-of-231).

The fact Mike Brey rarely, if ever, harps on free-throw shooting does not mean it’s not emphasized. He sets up game situations on the practice floor, including late-game, clutch free-throw shooting scenarios. He doesn’t talk about it much, certainly publicly, because he doesn’t want to plant seeds of doubt.

But as often as not, the Irish have struggled from the line at clutch time. Here are the exceptions:

• Win at Georgia Tech, 62-59, on Jan. 14: The Irish only shot one free-throw down the stretch, and Steve Vasturia converted it to complete a three-point play with nine seconds remaining.

• Win at North Carolina State, 81-78, in overtime on Jan. 25: Notre Dame made 6-of-8 from the line over the final stretch in regulation and overtime, including two by Jerian Grant with 3:45 left in the extra session. Demetrius Jackson did, however, make just one-of-two with 12 seconds left.

• Loss at Pittsburgh, 76-72, on Jan. 31: Despite the setback, Grant came through by converting a pair of free throws at the 2:57 and 0:32 marks.

Dry mouth push it out I can hear
My heart pound, a hero’s what I’m not
Voices scream, flashes flare frozen
As the people stare, my crucifixion shot

And you step to the line
And you step to the line

Jackson has been at the forefront of several Notre Dame’s late-game miscues from the charity stripe. He missed one-of-two with nine seconds remaining at home against Miami, although the Irish had a seven-point lead at the time.

More crucial misses came against North Carolina State with 12 seconds left in overtime with the Irish clinging to a two-point lead, and versus Clemson when he missed the front end of a one-and-one with 29 seconds left and the Irish leading by two.

Grant, as brilliant as he has been this season, has been a sporadic 75.2 percent from the line. For example, he made just 1-of-7 at Duke, and then nailed all seven at Clemson three days later.

Grant was clutch at Pittsburgh and North Carolina State, but missed one with 1:18 remaining in the second overtime against Georgia Tech, and missed the front end of a one-and-one at home against Virginia with 1:03 left and the Irish trailing by five.

Even the rock of the Irish, senior captain Pat Connaughton, missed a pair with the Irish up by three with 34 seconds left in overtime against Georgia Tech, and then followed that up with two misses with under five minutes remaining at North Carolina.

Sophomore Steve Vasturia missed a pair with four seconds left at North Carolina, but the Irish were able to hold on to a one-point victory. His two conversions with 41 seconds left in the second overtime against Georgia Tech at home helped seal the victory.

After Vasturia made two free throws with 2:15 left in Notre Dame’s home victory over Duke, sophomore V.J. Beachem missed a pair with 14 seconds remaining, and freshman Bonzie Colson made 1-of-2 with eight ticks left.

You try to see your future from the line
You’re clinging to the notion you’ll be fine
But the circle’s getting smaller all the time

And you step to the line
And you step to the line

The Irish are, by and large, a great shooting basketball team. They lead the conference in ACC play with the top three-point shooting field-goal percentage (.381) and are second to North Carolina in two-point field-goal percentage (.467).

To make some post-season noise and advance in the NCAA tournament, they must find ways to compensate for their lack of rebounding prowess. One of those ways is at the free-throw line, where Notre Dame has been, literally, hit-and-miss throughout their surge to the No. 2 spot in the ACC.

(Note: Lyrics from The Line by Phish, a song about Memphis’ Darius Washington, Jr., who missed two of three free throws with no time remaining against Louisville to lose by one in the 2005 Conference USA tournament. Make no mistake, shooting free throws with the game on the line is a difficult endeavor.)


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories