The 5-11 record attached to the UMBC men’s basketball team is troubling and frustrating and perhaps avoidable.
The Retrievers were ranked 302nd out of 345 Division I teams in free-throw percentage, converting 64.4 percent (224-of-348) as of last Friday. They haven’t finished a season above 70 percent since the 2010-11 campaign when that squad sank 70.7 percent (345-of-488), and the team’s inability to take advantage of free throws is worrisome to coach Aki Thomas.
“It’s a concern,” he said Monday. “It’s something that every day, we’re shooting a lot of them. We’re talking about it, guys are coming in on their own. We’re aware of it. We feel like it’s already snagged us a couple times, and we don’t want to it to get us many more times moving forward. So we’re doing our best to correct it and the guys are working hard and getting those extra free throws all the time. We’re definitely looking at them in practice.”
Futility at the free-throw line has impacted four UMBC losses. The team missed 10 free throws in a 63-61 overtime setback to American on Nov. 14, seven in an 89-83 overtime loss to Loyola on Nov. 20, 10 in a 70-68 decision to Lehigh on Dec. 7, nine in a 59-54 setback to UMass Lowell on Jan. 5, and three in a 73-72 double-overtime loss to Albany on Jan. 8.
“Free throws are something that you feel like you can control,” Thomas said. “It’s just you and the basket and a whole lot of concentration. If you’ve got a chance to make your free throws, it can be the difference in a game.”
The Retrievers are also one of the most foul-prone teams in the country, ranking fifth with an average of 25.0 fouls. The NCAA has instructed game officials to be more stringent in calling fouls against hand checking, but Thomas said that is not an excuse he is buying.
“We just have to do better,” he said. “We have to stop using our hands as much and really pay attention to the way the referees are calling the game. We’re not doing a great job of that. We’ve had games where we’ve done a decent job and then we’ve had some relapses where we’ve gotten to 25 fouls, and we want to keep that down as best as we can.”
UMBC has been whistled for an average of 24.7 fouls, while opponents have committed 20.8 fouls per game. That discrepancy is not lost on Thomas.
“It’s tough to beat anybody when they’re getting to the line that significantly more than you are,” he said. “In a lot of cases, we’ve had teams attempt more free throws than we’ve made. It’s tough. So we’ve got to really concentrate on our fouling people.”