Free throws remain work in progress

Maybe getting called out was exactly what North Carolina needed to start shooting free throws better.

Coach Roy Williams previously took a passive approach of not mentioning the Tar Heels' horrific free throw shooting. He feared making them a big deal would in fact turn shooting them into a big deal mentally.

They continued to practice, sometimes for consequences like running sprints on misses. Obviously, that approach didn’t work as they hovered around shooting 60 percent as a team.

It took Williams’ ripping their 24 of 47 performance from the free throw line against Texas to really make a change.

The Tar Heels heeded his challenge and responded against Davidson by shooting better than 70 percent for just the fourth time this season. In fact, the Heels’ 72.3 free throw percentage (34 of 47) against the Wildcats marked their best outing all season.

And maybe peer pressure is what will keep that from being an aberration.

Sophomore guard Marcus Paige, a co-captain who leads the team shooting 92.3 percent, has earned the right to do some finger pointing. He intimated that players weren’t spending enough extra time shooting free throws.

“It’s not a miracle that some guys are shooting better percentages than other guys,” Paige said. “It’s because they work on it every day, they work on their form every day, and they try to perfect that. It’s all about practice.”

In Carolina’s three losses, forward James Michael McAdoo has shot a combined 43 percent (16 of 37) from the line. So after the team shot 200 free throws in practice after their 86-83 loss to Texas, he attempted close to 300 more on his own time.

His 9 of 14 outing against Davidson was his season high for a game with more than 10 attempts.

Sophomore J.P. Tokoto knew he had to do better, too, and consulted with assistant coach Hubert Davis. One of his biggest problems was concentrating too much on the end result and not enough on his technique.

Tokoto started making free throws against Davidson when he stopped thinking about making them. His 5-of-6 outing against the Wildcats was also the most he’d made in a game this season.

“My checkpoint is just finishing on my toes, holding my follow through,” Tokoto said. “Just going through my routine in my head instead of thinking, ‘This has to go in.’ It has helped me incredibly.”

Paige believes free throws should not be a problem the rest of the season as long as his teammates stay dedicated to practicing them on their own.

“You could shoot hook shots from the free throw line, if you practice it enough you’re going to be consistent,” said Paige, who added, “I don’t recommend that by the way.”