Can UNC overcome free throw woes?

Will North Carolina’s nightmarish outing at the free throw line against Belmont carry over into Saturday’s meeting with Richmond?

The Tar Heels repeatedly talked about the mental aspect of free throw shooting after missing 26 free throws in Sunday’s 83-80 loss to the Bruins. They talked about misses in the first half having a snowball effect and spreading no matter which player went to the line.

“You can talk about it, you can not talk about it -- I mean, it’s free throws,” sophomore guard Marcus Paige said. “He [Roy Williams] can’t make them for us, there’s really not anything you can say to a guy struggling on the line. I mean, what do you say to him?”

So if they miss a few early against the Spiders, does the Belmont outing creep back into their collective minds?

Sophomore J.P. Tokoto's first trip to the line will be the litmus test because he had the toughest outing against Belmont.

Coach Roy Williams said the last time he had the team shoot 200 free throws in practice, Tokoto shot 84 percent. He made his first free throw against Belmont -- then missed the next nine en route to 4-of-16 shooting.

His body language grew increasingly worse with every trip to the line. The uneasiness within the Dean E. Smith Center crowd was palpable until they finally just started clapping in support for Tokoto before he shot his final few free throws.

“That’s pretty much all it was, just mental for me,” he said.

Tokoto was back in the gym Sunday night practicing free throws before reporters had completely cleared out of the media room.

It’s inevitable that he’ll get to the line -- he’s the only natural small forward on the team, and his game is to slash to the rim. Tokoto has the second-most attempts on the team (25), just four behind James Michael McAdoo. No other Carolina player has registered 10 attempts.

Considering that the Heels lost to Belmont and Richmond beat the Bruins, UNC could again be locked in a close game in which free throws matter. Will it be strong enough to handle it?