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Cashing In At The Line

Duke is having a great year from the line

Maryland Eastern Shore v Duke
DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 10: Tyrese Proctor #5 of the Duke Blue Devils prepares to shoot a free throw during their game against the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 10, 2022 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 82-55.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

There’s a quiet competition going on that could define ACC fortunes this season. Duke, for all its lack of seasoning, is hanging right there with the leaders. The Blue Devils are competing so quietly and efficiently that, as the 2022 part of the current basketball season fell away like an old-fashioned booster rocket, they were within striking distance of a few league and team marks for free throw accuracy.

Through 16 games the Devils had made .780 percent of their foul shots, second-best in the ACC to Clemson’s .784. The Tigers paced the league just once previously, in 2014 (.744).

Clemson, where coaches once complained their teams stank at the line because they couldn’t recruit quality shooters, was able to hang on for a 75-74 win at Pitt in a battle for first place by making three-quarters of its free throws (18-24). The current Tiger conversion rate would easily supplant Clemson’s best-ever team free throw mark, .755 achieved in 2018.

Last week Notre Dame crumped at the line, dropping from .799 to .764. Duke missed key free throws in a loss at NC State (17-26), followed by a near-perfect 17-19 effort in a one-point victory at Boston College. The performance at Conti Forum helped the Devils regain ground on foul shots, elevating their free throw accuracy to third-best in program history.

The ’23 Devils are paced at the line by freshman Tyrese Proctor (.871) and grad student Ryan Young (.857). Unfortunately their acuity is nearly invisible to the non-tutored eye. Neither has taken or made sufficient free throws to qualify among official league leaders.

Duke paced the league in free throw accuracy 15 times, most recently in 2013. The Blue Devils’s best effort to date was a .791 conversion rate in 1978.

Only Notre Dame in 2017 (.800) and NC State in 2004 (.799) officially edged the ’78 Devils, who leapt from last in the ACC standings to a berth in the NCAA title game. That Duke squad was led at the line by guard Jim Spanarkel (.863), a 3-time All ACC selection whose jersey should be retired, and big man Mike Gminski (.841), another 3-time All ACC honoree whose jersey was appropriately hoisted to the Cameron rafters.

Actually, all-time ACC leadership in free throw percentage was posted by Virginia in 2020-21, when it hit .816 at the line on 288 attempts. But that efficiency, while noted, doesn’t command attention as the ACC’s best ever. That’s because it occurred during the 2021 season when the total number of games and free throw tries were curtailed due to the pandemic, and therefore fell short of NCAA and league minimum standards.

Virginia counts the .816 as the program’s best, as we likewise regard it in the following chart of the top team efforts in ACC history.

We’ll revisit the unrecognized race for ACC foul shooting acumen toward season’s end. Just now we thought it worthwhile to bring to readers’s attention as teams jockey for victories and statistical improvement.

Top Team Free Throw Percentages In ACC History
(2023, Includes 16 Games Through Jan. 7)
FT% School Year FTM-FTA Record Finish
.816 Virginia 2021 235-288 18-7 first
.8003 Notre Dame 2017 489-611 26-10 second, tie
.7990 NC State 2004 481-602 21-10 second, tie
.791 Duke 1978 665-841 27-7 second
.785 Duke 1973 496-643 12-14 fourth, tie
.7835 Clemson 2023 232-296 13-3 TBD
.7827 North Carolina 1984 551-704 28-3 first
.7826 Syracuse 2021 237-299 18-10 eighth
.780 Duke 2023 227-291 12-4 TBD
.778 Wake Forest 2017 619-796 19-14 tenth
.777 Louisville 2019 534-687 20-14 sixth, tie