Spartans’ free-throw scuffles irk Izzo

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Tom Izzo

East Lansing — While Michigan State continues to deal with mounting injuries and getting a young lineup to find its rhythm, there’s one statistic that has coach Tom Izzo confounded.

It’s that his team is shooting 61.4 percent from the free-throw line, a number that puts them last in the Big Ten.

“Free throw shooting, we brought them in in the morning; we brought them in at night,” Izzo said after Saturday’s victory over Tennessee Tech. “Believe it or not, if I showed you all how they were shooting, Eron Harris makes 90 out of 100, 95 out of 100 (in practice), and he goes up there and misses two. It’s sure not his fault, just the way things were going.”

In the 71-63 win, Michigan State was just 17-for-30, including 2-for-8 at halftime.

Harris, a career 81.5 percent shooter from the stripe, was 3-for-6 in the game and said it’s not for lack of work, though he said he and his teammates would keep plugging away.

“I don’t think it needs to be explained,” said Harris, who is 20-for-30 this season. “It’s just you make them or you don’t. We’ve been getting our time in, we’ve got to be stronger mentally at the line. That’s all there is to it.

“We can come in and get more work in, but that’s a direct relationship to everything else we’re not focusing in on, like cutting a man out or loose-ball stuff like that. We’ve got to pick it up on all those levels if we’re gonna compete.”

Through 11 games, Michigan State is looking more like the 2014-15 team than a typical Michigan State team.

That season, the Spartans shot just 63.2 percent from the free-throw line.

However, when it mattered most, that group put it together in the postseason and made a Final Four run.

Getting this team to that point will be one of Izzo’s points of emphasis over the coming weeks.

“The free-throw thing will get straightened out or I am going to get fined,” Izzo said. “The 20-hour rule will be 20 hours just on free throws and then there will be practice.

“Write the NCAA and tell them that I am getting fined because we are going to be shooting some free throws now one way or another.”

It hasn’t all been bad. sophomore Matt McQuaid is shooting 91.7 percent and freshman Cassius Winston is checking in at 82.4.

But the Spartans will need Harris to improve as well as freshman Nick Ward, who is at 51.9 percent and when Miles Bridges returns from an ankle injury, he’ll need to better his 53.8 percentage.

Until then, Michigan State could continue to struggle late in games.

“I don’t know what to say about it,” Izzo said. “Some of those guys are good free-throw shooters. We know Nick isn’t. He was 2-for-5, a little below his norm. We had some other guys miss some. Eron missed some that he normally doesn’t and we had a lot of guys just miss one of two — 17-for-30 isn’t good.

“It’s when they happen, I think you have to realize. When you’re on a run and they happen and 18-point leads can be 20 and it’s a difference in the game. So we’ll get better.”