The Buckeyes (19-7, 8-5) have connected on just 67.5 percent (330-489) of their attempts from the charity stripe this season, tied for the 229th best mark nationally and the fourth-worst mark in the Big Ten. Their misses have played a big part in some of the Ohio State's losses.
Against Michigan State on Feb. 14 Ohio State missed eight of its 13 free throws and fell by just three points. Against Indiana on Jan. 10 the Buckeyes missed 10 free throws (17-27) before a three-point loss to the Hoosiers.
“We were scraping and clawing,” Matta said after the narrow defeat in East Lansing. “I know this, we can’t in this environment, in this caliber of game go five of 13 from the free-throw line. We missed the front end of one-and-ones. I wish I had an answer for what was going on there, but we’ve got to make our free throws. I’m not asking for 100 percent. That was a part of it. We still kept playing, we still kept battling.”
Ohio State missed five second-half free throws against the Spartans including twice misfiring on the front end of a one-and-one, costing the Buckeyes extra chances at points.
The Buckeyes nearly cost themselves a third game when they hit just 4-of-9 free throws at Northwestern on Jan. 22. Four of those misses came in the final minute of the game and three of them were on the front end of a one-and-one. That allowed the Wildcats to hang in the game and nearly steal a home win before losing 69-67 to Ohio State.
While Ohio State hasn’t yet lost a game due to an inability to hit game-icing free throws, its poor percentage from the line makes that a realistic possibility going forward. The Buckeyes two best bets at the line are D’Angelo Russell (77.4 percent) and Marc Loving (79.7 percent).
Russell has attempted the most free throws of any Ohio State player. The problem for the Buckeyes is that three players at the line the next most often have struggled with their shooting. Jae’Sean Tate has the second most free throw attempts on the team, but hit just 54.4 percent of his 68 tries. Sam Thompson (62.7 percent on 67 attempts) and Amir Williams (61.5 percent on 65 tries) have been little better.
The team’s percentage is the second lowest of any Matta-coached Ohio State squad and the lowest since his first season on campus (65.6 percent in 2004-05). The poor effort form the line has been a factor in multiple losses this season and certainly could be an issue going forward.