There are always certain statistics in sports that rise above the rest. Field goal percentage in basketball, earned run average in baseball, goals scored in soccer or penalty yards in football.
And there are always stats that are consistently overlooked — that’s free throw percentage in basketball. Free throw percentage seems to be one of the stats that is only looked at when a team loses. A great saying in sports is “winning masks deficiencies.” Essentially, when a team wins, a normal fan will not observe the negative things that the team did, only the positive.
For example, a basketball team wins a game. That team only shot 50 percent from the free throw line. Even though that is not good, the team won, so what does it matter? Well, it matters when in the team’s next game, they shoot 55 percent from the free throw line and lose by three points. A common viewpoint from a fan or pundit will be “If they had only made more free throws they would have won.”
As for the LSU Tigers, free throw shooting has been one of their most important statistics this season, and it shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Tigers have shot 76.5 percent from the free throw line this season, which is currently 15th in the nation. They’re also 10th in the nation on free throws made, with 445. In comparison to last season, LSU only made 459 free throws in the whole season.
To go more in-depth, taking a look at some of the games so far this season can show just how important the charity stripe has been for the Tigers.
Exhibit A — the second game of the season against UNC-Greensboro. LSU won the game by six points, 97-91. Their free throw stats? 28-31, or 90.3 percent. Take away just six of those 28 free throws made, and the game goes to overtime. Take away seven, and LSU takes a huge hit in the NET rankings with a loss to a Southern Conference team.
Exhibit B — the 11th game of the season against Saint Mary’s. LSU won the game by four points, 78-74. Their free throw stats? 22-25, or 88 percent. Take away just four of those 22 free throws made, and overtime. Take away five, and LSU loses its second straight game, going 2-4 in their last six games.
In eight games where LSU won by a margin of 10 points or fewer, the Tigers made at least 15 free throws in all of them.
There’s also another key stat that LSU coach and analytics guru Will Wade noted following their win over Auburn.
“The goal in every game is to make more free throws then the other team attempted, and when you can do that you’ll be in pretty good shape,” Wade said.
While LSU has only done that a handful of times this season, it just goes to show how much emphasis and how important free throws are to a team’s success. And it also shows that while fans and viewers of basketball might not view the free throw as a crucial part of the game, well, as the saying goes, “stats don’t lie”.