This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Josh Solomon.
You could almost hear Allen Iverson say it, over and and over again, “Free throws?!”
As usual, they’ve been a topic of conversation about the Colonials, only more so after the team eked out a win against Saint Joseph’s on Saturday.
One game into conference play and GW already almost blew a 20-point lead, courtesy of the one and only: charity stripe chip shots. In the final four minutes, they went to the line 17 times. They made a little over half of them, eventually resulting in a four-point win.
But the numbers show that result to be an outlier: Statistically speaking, GW’s free-throw shooting, even down the stretch, has been the same or better than in years past. All the talk is not backed up by what has actually happened in games.
This year alone, GW has played in five games decided by 10 points or fewer. Last season, it was 19 games. The year prior, 17 games. From the 2012-13 season to the 2013-14 season, the Colonials won twice as many close games, an 111 percent increase. This year is the best yet, with the team winning at an 80 percent clip.
Granted, it wasn’t always juniors Joe McDonald, Kethan Savage, Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen who were taking the bulk of the team’s critical-moment free throws. Last year, Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood shot 42 percent of free throws taken in the final four minutes of games decided by 10 points or fewer. They made 73 percent of those freebies. The four juniors took 57 percent of those free throws, making 68 percent of them. Senior Nemanja Mikic took the only free throws not shot by a combination of those players.
In 2012-13, it was a mixed bag: Darian Smith, Bryan Bynes, Lasan Kromah and Armwood all were the major shooters, including others. Those four shot 57 percent of the critical free throws at a 65 percent clip. Meanwhile the then-freshman four were somewhat absent from the line: Larsen never stepped to the stripe in one of those moments and Savage missed his one attempt. McDonald was 11-18 and Garino was 7-13.
This year, the four juniors have shot all the team’s critical free throws aside from a few by Yuta Watanabe and Paul Jorgensen. The group is shooting 68.8 percent from the free throw line in the final four minutes of games decided by 10 points or fewer, identical to their total season average.
The details that emerge show the players have been no worse in the clutch than they have at the beginnings of games or in blowouts. Rather, players have shot near their overall averages with the game on the line – mostly no different than in years prior.
At the line, Garino’s having his best statistical season yet. He’s shooting 71 percent on the season, compared to 59 percent and 65 percent in the respective seasons. In crunch time, he’s made 5-7, also 71 percent.
Larsen is a bit scattered: He is at a 65 percent clip on the season – consistent with his prior years, 63 and 67 percent. In crunch time, though, he’s only made 5-9, for a 56 percent clip – almost the same as last year’s season total of 6-11, 55 percent.
Savage is shooting a poorer percentage from the line in critical moments, but it’s not significant enough to draw conclusions of choking.
McDonald, however, has come through nearly every time. In the 36 other minutes during close games, he’s shooting 63 percent at the free throw line. Come crunch time, he’s shooting 5-6 for 83 percent. His one miss against Saint Joe’s on Saturday was his first of the season in that kind of situation.
That uptick with the game on the line is significantly different from McDonald’s numbers in the past. In McDonald’s sophomore year, he shot 70 percent from the free throw line for the season. In games decided by 10 points or fewer, he shot 71 percent. In the final four minutes of those games, he shot – again – 71 percent on 30-42 shooting. He’s improved from freshmen year, too, when he shot 65 percent on the season and 61 percent in crunch time.
GW is only shooting 66 percent from the free throw line as a team this year, though that number does put them in the top half of the Atlantic 10. The core four are shooting 69 percent. In the final four minutes of tight games, they’re shooting exactly the same, 69 percent. Yes, McDonald missed one of two of his free throws in the Saint Joe’s conference opener, but at that point, he was probably due for a miss.
The Colonials have won four of five of these tight games this year. So it’s tough to complain after a 2012-13 when they lost 11 of 17 of them. This year is even better so far, which is perhaps the best indicator that they’ve improved in late-game situations, not free throws (free throws?!).