Pitt has been done in by poor free-throw shooting on a few occasions this season. Tray Woodall missed the front end of one-and-ones in the first game against Cincinnati and in the game at Louisville that prevented the Panthers from mounting comeback victories.
That was bad timing on Woodall’s part and the missed free throws magnified Pitt’s poor free-throw percentage.
In other games this season, particularly Pitt’s close victories, many of Woodall’s temamates have exhibited good timing.
Take Saturday’s victory at Cincinnati, for instance. In the final 54 seconds against the Bearcats, Pitt was 6 for 6 from the line and increased a four-point lead to a final margin of 10 because of them. James Robinson nailed all four of his foul shots and Lamar Patterson made two.
Pitt only shot 68 percent from the line for the game, but their timing could not have been better.
"I’m glad I got a freshman in James who stepped up and hit the free throws,” said Woodall, who missed two with 2:33 remaining that provided some tense moments because the Panthers were clinging to a three-point lead at the time.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has been preaching about this for years. It’s not that he totally dismisses free-throw percentage, but he always puts higher stock in players making free throws when they count most.
In the previous game against Seton Hall, the Panthers did the same. The Pirates were nipping at their heels and trying to get back in the game by fouling. But in the final 3 minutes and 12 seconds, the Panthers made 8 of their 10 free throws, including their final six.
Pitt only shot 65 percent from the line against Seton Hall.
OK, one last example. Let’s go back to the Providence game. The Friars were attempting a comeback in the final minutes and the Panthers missed two of their three free throws in a late stretch that opened the door. But after the Friars cut the lead to two, Robinson stepped to the line with nine seconds left and made two to seal the victory.
Pitt only shot 57 percent in that game, but Robinson made the two most important ones when his team needed him to come through.
Pitt’s free-throw shooting woes are a problem. Dixon is addressing it by having his players work on it in different ways in practice. The Panthers could make things a lot easier on themselves by making more foul shots earlier in games. This is obvious.
However, the ability to make free throws in crunch time should not be overlooked. Winning teams find ways to do this, and the Panthers, who have won seven of their past eight, are proving that.
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