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Men’s Basketball: Free throw shooting saves Notre Dame down the stretch

Chris Khorey | Monday, February 11, 2008

The object of basketball is to put the ball in the orange cylinder hanging 10 feet above the court.

For the last 6:21 of Saturday’s game against No. 16 Marquette, Notre Dame was completely unable to do that – at least during the run of play.

Despite being held without a field goal during that crucial stretch, the No. 21 Irish still hung on to win their fifth straight game and their 34th straight at the Joyce Center.


The lost art of free throw shooting.

For years, fans have moaned and groaned about poor free-throw shooting in big time basketball. It’s never on the highlight reels. Young players spend too much time working on their tomahawk jams and not enough time on the fundamentals.

Apparently that’s not true of the Irish (unless you count forward Luke Zeller, who’s clearly been working on his tomahawk jams judging by Saturday’s thunderous throw-down in the first half.)

Against the Golden Eagles, Notre Dame buried 77 percent of its free-throw attempts – 24 in 31 attempts. During its crunch-time field-goal-less stretch, Notre Dame went 10-for-10 from the line.

One possession after the last Irish field goal (a spinning lay-up by point guard Tory Jackson), guard Jonathan Peoples began the free throw parade, stepping to the line and calmly draining two – one with a little help from the backboard.

The free throws didn’t seem crucial at the time, but they were the first Peoples had attempted since the win over Cincinnati Jan. 15, and they gave him needed confidence for later in the game.

Peoples’ free throws put Notre Dame up 78-67 – but Marquette was about to make a run.

With less than a minute remaining, the Irish found themselves up by just one at 82-81. Notre Dame had to inbound, and the Golden Eagles had to foul. With free throw sharpshooters Kyle McAlarney and Luke Harangody tightly guarded, Peoples took the throw in.

The crowd held its breath as the inexperienced reserve headed to the line.

Peoples calmly swished both.

After a layup by Marquette guard Dominic James cut the lead to one again with eight seconds left, it was time for a more likely Irish hero – Harangody – to head to the line.

Notre Dame’s Big East player of the year candidate had already hit eight free throws on the day – including four during the field-goal-less streak – but what really gave the Joyce Center crowd confidence was that this was not the first time Harangody had been at the line in a pressure situation.

Just a little over a week ago, on Jan. 31, the sophomore forward had stepped to the line with his team down two and just seconds remaining against Providence. Harangody hit both then and he hit both against Marquette to provide the final margin.

Obviously, Notre Dame’s field-goal drought is disturbing. The Irish were running a good team out of the gym for 34 minutes, and then they suddenly stopped being aggressive and couldn’t hit shots. This kind of passivity has already cost them games against Baylor and Georgia Tech this year, and if they’re not careful it will cause them to drop games again.

But with dead-eye free-throw shooting like they had Saturday, the Irish have the ability to close teams out late in tight games.

They just have to make sure they finish off the games that shouldn’t be close as well.

The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Chris Khorey at ckhorey@nd.edu