Free-Throw Woes, Pt. 2
High pressure got these cats cooked.
I know I’ve said this before but… More men have been murked by the charity stripes than by the chainsaws.
Look at what happened to Jerome Dyson Friday, when UConn renewed its rivalry with Duke in a battle that was everything but memorable Duke shot 28 percent from the field, 8-29 in the second half. Duke scored a 68-59 win over their Big East foe.
Duke hit free throws like Jerry Springer hits up rub-and-tug joints — early, often, and with efficiency. Dukies shot 20-25 (80 percent) from the charity stripe.
Slicin’ Dyson, who entered the game shooting a scorching 28-33 at the line, shot a dreadful 3-9 on the big stage at Madison Square Garden. The then-No.13 Huskies slashed and burned their chances against then-No.7 Duke, shooting a woeful 53 percent from the free throw line (15-28).
(Frank White voice) How do you explain that?
Dyson had been stroking them with ease, knocking back 14-15 in a win over Hofstra on November 17. Dyson shot the rock at an 81 percent clip his sophomore season. He shot 74 percent his junior season, which was shortened after he knocked knees with Syracuse’s Kristof Ongeneat at the Gampel Pavilion in February.
There was a lid on the basket Friday. Dyson suddenly found himself shooting on a crooked carnival rim, the Six Flags shootout. Honey, I shrunk the Rim!!!
If you hold somebody to 28 percent, you can’t lose. But if you give them 25 offensive rebounds and can’t make a shot, or a foul shot, you’ve got some problems,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun told the New Haven Register.
“I really can’t explain it,” said Dyson of his free throw woes.
While his high-flying game and ability to carve up defenses (especially after a summer when he dominated the Hartford Pro-Am league) Dyson still needs to shed his reputation as a bully. The Huskies’ senior guard, dominant in games against creampuffs, tends to disappear in big games (see Dyson’s 1-10 game against Georgetown in last year’s first Big East loss). He must prove he’s a primetime player.
The Huskies’ don’t start and end with Dyson, especially with the arrival of highly acclaimed 6-10 freshman Ater Majok just calendar days away. But if anyone has the skill set to lead this Husky team, it’s Dyson. Leadership and clutch free throw shooting are first cousins. Seniors make free throws, simply put.
Dyson led by example and the 6-3 guard piloted a young UConn team to victory against William & Mary and Hofstra, helping them avoid early-season upsets. Still, his status as a game changer (while trying to steer the Big East pressure cooker) is amateur. He’s been UConn’s best defender since his freshmen season, when he led an all-underclassmen team. Rudy Gay, Josh Boone, Hilton Armstrong, Marcus Williams, Rashad Anderson and Denham Brown had all bolted for the L or went over the waters.
Dyson was the incoming golden boy, the new kid on the block.
A mass suspension his sophomore year and last season’s injury has slowed him down since then. The kid from Potomac, MD, can easily leave the same legacy (or better) than the aforementioned players. For this to happen, Dyson must get acclimated to the role that former Huskies guard and current Indiana Pacer AJ Price thrived in last year. It’s up to him to do the damage when the game is on the line, when the big dogs are barking and the pressure is cranked up.
But Dyson continues to wobble under the weight of lofty leadership expectations, as he did with his paltry free throw shooting at the Garden on Friday.
The games get bigger and bigger, Dyson gets smaller and smaller. “Did Jerome Dyson play tonight?” Calhoun quipped after the Huskies suffered a double-digit loss to Providence in the Route 6 rivalry at Hartford during Dyson’s sophomore year. “I’m not sure if he did or he didn’t.”
Free throw woes also hurt another top-tier Big East guard in Deonta Vaughn recently. Once again, a senior looked like a freshman on a grand stage. Vaughn, a scoring guard, shot 80 percent from the line last year and has never dipped under 75 in his career.
The shootist had a chance to create some serenity during the overtime session of the Maui Invitational title. But the free throws Vaughn coughed up with 3:36 remaining in overtime turned that serenity into a storm. Prior to Vaughn’s botched freebies, Yancy Gates missed a pair. Cincy, which had pulled off an upset of Maryland the previous game, fell to Gonzaga 61-59.
More have been murked by the charity stripe than by the chainsaws, the foul line is a NCAA fire torch, burning a team’s chances.
Zach Smart has written for Big East Basketball Report, Hoops Addict and The East Coast Bias. Read more on his blog.