Clemson University

Free throws a state of mind for Tigers

CLEMSON - While demonstrating his shooting mechanics, Tanner Smith says only so much can go wrong with a free throw.

The Clemson guard has to remind himself to keep his elbow in. But beyond that hitch, his motion is simple and repeatable.

Yet, during the Oliver Purnell era much has gone awry during those non-contested shots. In Purnell's first five seasons at Clemson, the Tigers never shot better than 63.1 percent from the line.

But Clemson might be changing its perception as a poor free-throw shooting team.

The Tigers are shooting 67 percent this season, just shy of last season's 68.8 average, the best in seven years under Purnell.

The Tigers have made at least 80 percent of their free throws in three consecutive games as they begin a critical stretch of ACC play today at Florida State.

"My answer would be we have better shooters," Purnell said. "We've won a bunch of games from the foul line this year. ... We've shot 70 percent in the league the last two years, and that's when it's toughest.

"We're a better free throw shooting team than people talk about."

The Tigers might have better shooters, but Clemson has also worked extensively on improving.

Clemson brought in a sports psychologist. Assistant coach Ron Bradley says the staff often has players shoot a pair of free throws at intermittent times in practice to simulate game situations rather than shooting 100 free throws in a row.

"It's not usually technique," Bradley said. "It's usually the mental aspect. We have guys that make 90 percent in practice."

Smith credits some of those techniques to improving his foul shooting from 66.7 percent as a freshman to 73.4 percent as a sophomore.

Smith made the season's two most critical free throws at N.C. State earlier this to secure Clemson's only road win in ACC play.

"(At N.C. State) I remember thinking about when me and my dad used to shoot free throws he'd tell me we are down two or up two and if I missed they were going to come down and shoot a three and we were going to lose," Smith said. "I was so focused on those free throws I made them. I really need to start tapping into that."

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC