Texas Tech basketball: Free-throw line has been huge weapon for Red Raiders

LUBBOCK, TX - FEBRUARY 27: Davide Moretti #25 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders shoots a free throw during the overtime period of the game on February 27, 2019 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech defeated Oklahoma State 84-80 in overtime. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TX - FEBRUARY 27: Davide Moretti #25 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders shoots a free throw during the overtime period of the game on February 27, 2019 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech defeated Oklahoma State 84-80 in overtime. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) /

In the first two months of the Texas Tech basketball season, the free-throw line has been one of the Red Raiders’ biggest weapons.

There’s nothing better in sports than free points.  And this year, the Texas Tech basketball team is making the most of the generosity of its opponents.

The free-throw line has been a tremendous weapon for the Red Raiders this year, something that’s been rather helpful considering that this team finds itself in the midst of a prolonged collective shooting slump from 3-point range.

For the year, Tech is shooting just 31.9% as a team from behind the arc.  Surprisingly, that’s still good for 6th-best in the Big 12.

But in the last six games (going back to the Thanksgiving night loss to Iowa) the Red Raiders are shooting just 27.7% from deep.  What’s more, only twice in that span has Tech hit more than 5 three-pointers in a game.

Thankfully, Chris Beard has seen his team make a living at the free-throw line.  In fact, each of Tech’s two wins last week could be attributed to the Red Raiders’ ability to capitalize on their opportunities for free points.

In the games against Southern Miss and UT Rio Grande Valley, Tech went a combined 44-54 (81.4%) from the free-throw line.  That equated to an advantage of 32 points in the two games combined.

Simply put, Tech would not have won either game had it not been for what happened at the line.  But that’s a sign of a good team.

How often would lesser teams be content to simply continue to bomb away from deep when the 3-point shots aren’t falling?  After all, when the jumpers don’t hit the mark, we typically see teams double-down and continue to shoot out of pure frustration.

As ironic as that may seem, when players are frustrated because their shots aren’t going down, they usually decide to continue to try to remedy that problem by trying the longest shots on the floor.  Perhaps that is more of a psychological issue because the 3-point shot is the easiest shot in the game to get and when we are frustrated, we settle for what is easiest rather than bearing down and fighting towards what we really need.

Thus, it’s a sign of this team’s developing maturity that they continue to attack the bucket when the 3-point shots come up dry.  And setting the tone has been Davide Moretti.

The junior is no longer a secret weapon after his standout NCAA Tournament and as a result, he’s drawing the attention from some of the opposition’s best stoppers.  In any given game, he will have a defender in his hip pocket for nearly the entirety of the time he’s on the floor so he’s had to find other ways to help his team win.

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Already 42-43 at the stripe this year, he’s almost half-way to the 105 free-throws he shot last year in just 11 games.  His attempts per game are up to 3.9 after being at 2.7 last year.  Some of that is due to his increased playing time but most of it is because he’s had to drive the ball to the basket as teams sell out to keep him from getting open looks on the outside.

In the last three games, Moretti has used the line rather effectively.  Shooting just 25% from the field during that time, he’s been 18-18 on free throws meaning that 42.8% of his points have come one-at-a-time.

Then there is Tech’s second-best free-throw shooter, Terrence Shannon Jr.  (Technically, Avery Benson is the best shooter on the team this year, having made all seven of his attempts but in reality, he’s not the type of weapon in getting to the line as Moretti or Shannon.)  The freshman is averaging a team-high five three-throws per game, which is impressive for a freshman.

Often, first-year players are the ones most willing to settle for outside shots as they lack the confidence and strength to get to the rim off the dribble.  For instance, consider how much Kyler Edwards relied on the 3-point shot last year in his first season as a collegiate.

But Shannon has attacked the rim from the moment he stepped on campus.  And though he’s not known as a dead-eye shooter from deep, he’s hitting 85.5% at the line.

No team in the Big 12 is making better use of the free-throw line than Beard’s Red Raiders. They are second to OU in team field goal percentage (78.3% for OU to 77.4% for Tech) and they have shot the second-most free throws on the year (248) behind West Virginia (263).

But consider two facts.  First, OU has been to the line 45 times fewer than the Red Raiders.  Second, West Virginia has shot just 67.3% thus neutralizing their lead in the number of free throws taken.

With 192 made free-throws, Tech has made more than any team in the conference.  That’s 15 more than the next closest team, the Mountaineers.

Last year, Tech averaged 15.6 free throws per game, making an average of 11.3 (72.8%).  This year, the number of attempts has risen to 22.5 and the makes are up to 17.4 showing just how much the Red Raiders are counting on the line to supplement the offense.  Another way to look at it is to consider that 22.9% of this year’s offense is coming through singles compared to 15.4% in 2018-19.

As Big 12 play begins, let’s continue to see if Tech can get to the line as often as has been the case thus far and whether the conversion rate remains around 80%.  That’s going to be a key that could carry this team to wins on those inevitable nights when the shots won’t fall from outside.