Hoosiers still trying to solve free throw woes

Instead of chucking up shots from around the floor, or driving through the paint for layups and dunks, Freddie McSwain spent the early warmup period prior to Monday’s game at Rutgers serving a different purpose.

The senior forward toed the free throw line, attempting shot after shot.

This season’s free throw struggles have spread across Indiana’s locker room like the common cold, a nasty case of missed opportunities that have cost Indiana dearly during the Big Ten season. The missed shots are not going unnoticed or ignored during daily practices, but even as IU’s free throw percentage continues to dip toward one of the worst marks in the nation, Indiana coach Archie Miller maintains there’s a mental hurdle his Hoosiers have to cross more than anything else.

“All in all, it is what it is right now,” Miller said after the 65-43 win over the Scarlet Knights. “We can practice ’til the cows come home. We have to step up in the games. Guys gotta step up and make them.”

Like McSwain, who went 4-for-4 at the line at Rutgers.

It was only the second time in his two years at Indiana that McSwain made each of his free throws when attempting more than two in a game. He also went 4-for-4 at Purdue last February.

But recently, his 53 percent season mark at the line had been weighing on his heart.

McSwain missed two free throws with 1:38 left in Saturday’s loss to No. 5 Michigan State, squandering a chance to give the Hoosiers a one-point lead late in the contest.

In making his second consecutive start on Monday, McSwain sought to atone for his recent showing. So he went to work early, practicing his form throughout pregame warmups.

Usually, McSwain shoots from other areas around the floor prior to games, but he recognized a clear need to refine his approach this week.

“My percentage is kind of low, but I know I can shoot free throws,” he said. “I got confident, went to the line and knocked them down.”

It sounds easy enough, though for an Indiana team that ranks near the bottom of Division I in free throw conversions, it is proving anything but.

The Hoosiers’ free throw percentage of .649 ranks No. 332 nationally. Incredibly, fellow Big Ten teams Rutgers (No. 338, 64.3 percent) and Michigan (No. 342, .63.8) are worse.

Then again, Indiana’s percentage of .634 is easily the lowest free throw rate in conference games alone.

The Hoosiers made only eight of their 18 attempts against the Scarlet Knights Monday, at one point watching senior Robert Johnson miss three in a row during a single trip to the stripe.

Johnson and junior forward Juwan Morgan, who otherwise carried the offensive load for Indiana, combined to go 3-for-11 at the line at Rutgers.

“I think Rob and Juwan, those guys are probably a little disappointed in themselves,” Miller said. “… It’s pride, it’s confidence, it’s continuing to work at it. We’ll see how it goes as we continue to finish.”

The Hoosiers shot merely 60 percent during their recent four-game losing streak, a skid that included three games that went down to the final moments.

A few more free throws, and there may have been a few different results mixed in.

“We shoot free throws every day,” sophomore guard Devonte Green said. “We work on it every day. We just gotta stick with it, step up to the line and just knock them down.”