Foul shots are anything but ‘free’

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One of the most pressure-packed scenarios in all of sports is standing at the free throw line.
It doesn’t matter if two of your friends are watching or there are15,000 fans in a jam-packed arena. Not choking two foul shots is hard.
At first, I wanted to just leave this one alone. But, the competitor inside, as it usually does, won out.
The Nebraska men’s basketball team was historically terrible from the foul line in an 81-76 overtime loss to Northwestern March 1, going eight of 30 from the charity stripe in the Huskers’ 14th straight loss.
We don’t need to go much further than that. Everyone knows that eight of 30 from the free throw line is disgustingly bad.
That being said, can the average guy do any better?
Here are the results.
I watched online in the days following the awful free throw performance by Nebraska as the Huskers became a punch line across the country.
Everyone and their dog boasted how they could easily make more than eight free throws in a 30-shot stretch.
One discussion said to the effect of, if you had to shoot 30 free throws every morning forever and would die the day you made eight or less, how long would you live?
Forever was a common answer. I’m certainly not that confident in myself.
My reservations with this come from experience. Growing up, I compared myself to NBA great Shaquille O’Neal at the foul line. Grossly terrible.
I have no shot. It looks more like a shot put throw than anything else, and makes me feel like I need to apologize to my former coaches, Rick Bell and Wade Miller.
It was then that the competitor in me came out. Surely I can make more than eight, right. There’s 30 freaking tries at it. All you have to do is make roughly one of every four.
As I complained with fellow sports columnist Dave Bradley about the Huskers, I figured we couldn’t complain about it if we didn’t try it.
So last week, Dave, boss Kurt Johnson and myself hit the gym to test our free throw tenacity.
After warming up, we gave ourselves two test shots just to get the feel of everything before going live. Of six shots, only Dave made a single one.
Uh oh.
As to closely simulate a game situation, we shot two free throws and rotated until we each completed 30 shots.
As we went live, Kurt and I missed both shots while Dave went one of two.
Is it too early to back out of this yet?
From that point, though, I got hot. Of the next eight free throws, I made six of them for a 6 of 10 to start.
Hey now, 62 percent was Shaq’s best-ever season percentage. Heck, I only need to make two more to tie the Huskers.
Don’t get cocky. I missed the next four.
As for the other two, Dave went five of 10 early on while Kurt was four of 10. Those numbers changed quickly.
Dave was dangerous in the second 10 shots. He made seven of 10 over the stretch and at one point, made six of seven. After 20 shots, Dave was 12 of 20 and at a 60 percent clip. Most importantly, he already eclipsed Nebraska’s eight.
Kurt finished the second 10 untouchable, making four in a row and seven overall. At the 20 shot mark, the boss made 11 for 55 percent and breezed past Nebraska’s eight.
Wasn’t as easy for me.
After missing four straight, I rallied to sink four of the next six, now standing at 10 of 20 made.
Whew -- at least I beat the Huskers.
Dave and Kurt each finished the final 10 on fire. Dave sank six of his final seven and made seven of 10 while Kurt made his final four, also going seven of 10.
I bricked my way to the finish line, making just three of my final 10 and missed four in a row.
It’s not easy.
Dave ended up winning the first and probably final Aurora News-Register free throw contest, making 19 of 30 shots for a 63 shooting percentage.
In comparison, Dave would rank sixth on Nebraska’s team in percentage, ahead of guys like Dachon Burke Jr., and Cam Mack. As a team, Nebraska is a 59 percent free throw rate.
Kurt was right on Dave’s heels, making 18 of 30 for 60 percent. For some local flavor, South Dakota State freshman and former Husky Baylor Scheierman has made 30 of 46 this season for a 65 percent completion rate.
As for myself, I stumbled to a 43 percent rate, making just 13 of 30. In his career, Shaq was a 52 percent foul shooter with his worst season coming at 42 percent.
Still made more than eight.
I’ve watched thousands of free throws over the last three months -- both in person and on television. Those 30 free throws last week were my first -- and probably my last -- for the foreseeable future. I’ll stay behind the camera and keyboard.
RICHARD RHODEN can be reached at sports@hamilton.net.

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