SOUTH CHINA — Free throws. They ain’t cheap.
It seems as if for years, too many high school basketball players have treated foul shots like a cumbersome chore. Like mowing a lawn uphill with nothing but an electric razor.
Take for example, Friday night’s Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference game between the Messalonskee and Erskine Academy boys.
Messalonskee won the game, 50-40, but the Eagles certainly didn’t clinch the victory at the free throw line. Messalonskee was just 12 for 27 at the line.
I did the math for you. That’s 44 percent. That’s an inadequate success rate.
Erskine didn’t shoot much better, making 13 of 25 foul shots, 52 percent.
In the first half alone, Messalonskee missed the front end of one and one tries three times. Three is the maximum number of times a team could shoot one and one tries in a half. At 10 fouls, a non-shooting foul is automatically two shots, so a player has double the opportunity to miss.
Messalonskee coach Jay Dangler called his team’s struggles at the line an aberration. For a team with tournament aspirations, he’d better hope that’s all it is.
“In practice, and a lot of it will be after conditioning, we shoot (free throws) and we try to be around 80 percent. We’re usually right around there,” Dangler said. “We were playing tight. A lot of guys were sick, so maybe the fatigue caught up to us.”
A foul shot should be the easiest thing to do in basketball. You’re 15 feet from the basket, with nothing but straight and open road between you and the net. It’s all repetitive form. Find the rhythm that works for you, practice it until it’s second nature, until the muscle memory takes over, until you’re not even thinking about it when the official hands you the basketball.
Last season, the Winslow girls team saw its season end in the Class B North semifinals when it couldn’t make free throws down the stretch, allowing Mt. Desert Island the window to rally and take the win. MDI went on to the state championship game.
Any team can have a cold night — it happens. With foul shots, those cold nights are like a Maine winter. There’s a lot of them.
“Kids aren’t really practicing (fouls shots) anymore. They want to shoot the 3-ball. And we do plenty of that.” Dangler said.
High school basketball is full of players who can stick a 25-foot 3-pointer. Nobody shooting in the driveway or on the playground imagines they’re stepping to the foul line with the championship on the line.
But that’s how it often happens, so maybe they should.

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