Free throw gap factor in Buckeyes' losing streak
There’s a trusted basketball axiom that says when things aren’t going well, find ways to get to the free throw line.
It’s one that Ohio State, as it heads to Nebraska on Saturday on a five-game losing streak, hasn’t been able to heed very well this season. A double-edged sword of fouling too much and not being fouled enough has played a significant role in all five losses for the Buckeyes.
Starting with a home loss Jan. 5 to No. 8 Michigan State, Ohio State has attempted fewer free throws than its opponent has made in five straight games. Through seven conference games, Ohio State has taken 59 fewer free throws than its opponents, and Big Ten opponents have made 140 while the Buckeyes have attempted 123.
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It’s a problem, and it might be one that’s correctable with this group.
“I don’t think we’re going to be a team that’s going to get to the foul line a whole lot,” coach Chris Holtmann said after Wednesday’s 12-point home loss to Purdue. “There’s going to be a lot of times where we’re not going to win that battle. I think we can foul less, I think we can play smarter for sure with some of our fouls, but I just don’t think we’re a team that’s going to win a lot of the free throw rate.”
Last season, Ohio State had five players average at least 3.8 fouls drawn per 40 minutes. This season, the Buckeyes have only three players above that threshold, and one of them — freshman Jaedon LeDee — had his numbers skewed when he wound up shooting 14 free throws in 13 minutes.
Kaleb Wesson leads the nation with an average of 8.3 fouls drawn per 40 minutes, but his impact in that category has been nullified due to his own recent foul troubles. He’s taken eight free throws in the past two games, making all eight, after not going to the line against Iowa.
It’s on the perimeter where the Buckeyes need to start creating contact. Freshman Justin Ahrens said quicker ball movement would lead to more openings which would lead to more opportunities for an offense that hasn’t scored more than 67 points in the past four games.
“We definitely could do a better job of it,” senior guard C.J. Jackson said. “We don’t get to the line enough. In this type of league you need to score easily, and that’s at the free throw line or in transition or anything like that. Going against half-court defense at times can be tough, so we definitely need to work on seeking more contact and getting to the free throw line more.”
The problem is that, as Holtmann sees it, there’s only so much about seeking contact that can be taught. That wasn’t a necessity for a player like Jae’Sean Tate, who spent four years battling in the paint as an undersized post player.
“You can make some improvements in it but a lot of it is who you are as a player,” Holtmann said. “Very rarely did we have to talk to (Tate) about getting to the line. A lot of that is the physical presence, the ball skills, those kinds of things, but I do think we can make it more of an emphasis and we need to.”