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How Free Throw Shooting Hurt Duke Last Year

And some historical perspective too

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 02 Duke at Georgia Tech
ATLANTA, GA MARCH 02: Duke forward Matthew Hurt (21) shoots a free throw during the NCAA basketball game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on March 2nd, 2021 at Hank McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta, GA.
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

From the perspective of achieving points at the foul line, long a staple of Duke offense under Mike Krzyzewski, 2021 was something of an unnoticed disaster.

The Blue Devils finished second in the ACC with 76.0 points per game. A third of those points came from 3-point range. But Duke was a bust at the foul line, worst of Krzyzewski’s tenure.

That deficiency contributed significantly to its inconsistency. The Devils three times experienced three-game losing streaks. Five of their losses came by fewer than five points, not to mention two that came late in the year in overtime.

A few more points via free throw could have made a major difference. In eight of Duke’s 11 defeats, the other team attempted more foul shots. On the year opponents made and attempted more free throws per game and hit a higher percentage than Duke at the line.

Most telling, the ’21 Devils didn’t take advantage of their foul shot opportunities, scoring a mere 13.1 percent of their points via free throw.

That was not only the smallest portion of points any ACC team achieved at the line last year, but the fewest realized by a Duke squad in Krzyzewski’s first 41 seasons.

In fact, Duke’s point production on foul shots was more than four percent lower than any squad of the Krzyzewski era. The previously low was 17.14 percent in 1995, when the Devils finished last in the ACC with Coach K sidelined for the second half of the season.

Duke earned fewer than 20 percent of its points on free throws in only 8 of the last 41 seasons, a shade under once year in every five.

Such modest point production at the line has been the case in each of the last four seasons, and five of the last seven, an unwelcome and uncharacteristic trend that speaks of a weakened interior attack, middling aggressiveness ‘off the dribble’, and compensatory heavy reliance on perimeter scoring.

Making matters worse last year, the team’s .691 free throw accuracy was one of only eight occasions under Krzyzewski when Duke’s conversion rate was that low or lower. Among regulars only DJ Steward and Wendell Moore made more than three-fourth of their foul shots.

FREELY TAKEN
Portion of Duke Points Derived By Free
Throw, By Season Under Mike Krzyzewski
Year %PtsFT FTM-FTA FT%
2021 13.10 239-346 .691
2020 19.59 501-696 .720
2019 17.53 551-803 .686
2018 18.00 562-791 .710
2017 21.46 642-842 .762
2016 21.44 626-866 .723
2015 19.73 610-873 .699
2014 20.80 571-783 .729
2013 21.17 588-796 .739
2012 23.06 606-864 .701
2011 20.78 622-826 .753
2010 22.15 682-899 .759
2009 24.67 658-904 .728
2008 20.99 594-852 .697
2007 20.71 481-698 .689
2006 23.59 689-905 .761
2005 22.67 585-821 .713
2004 22.17 655-890 .736
2003 23.87 639-897 .712
2002 20.08 625-906 .690
2001 19.70 697-1002 .696
2000 20.66 618-833 .742
1999 22.34 800-1135 .705
1998 20.99 647-946 .740
1997 21.34 561-801 .700
1996 19.05 445-633 .703
1995 17.14 413-633 .670
1994 21.49 567-797 .711
1993 21.84 604-838 .721
1992 21.63 780-1043 .748
1991 23.12 791-1089 .726
1990 26.23 888-1165 .762
1989 20.65 643-953 .675
1988 21.42 628-874 .719
1987 20.46 521-734 .710
1986 22.04 704-983 .716
1985 22.32 546-788 .693
1984 24.88 653-902 .724
1983 22.32 501-678 .739
1982 21.92 379-558 .679
1981 22.59 474-700 .677