When evaluating a team’s effort, I decided it was more appropriate to look at how many of the primary players (i.e. in most cases starters) were good free throw shooters that season, using a 70% standard as a break mark. 70% isn’t great, but it's okay… and if you have four starters shooting 70% or more, I think you’re in pretty good shape; that is limiting the free throw shooting liability to just one guy on the court, and you can probably hide him. 70% is not Gerry McNamara numbers… but then again, no other player in Syracuse history has had GMac free throw numbers (some are close, but he’s the tops).
So going backwards from this year, here are the good shooting squads from the Hill. And surprisingly, one wasn’t too long ago.
The 2000-2001 team had four starters shooting better than 70% from the charity stripe, with Damone Brown leading the way at 79.1%. Included in that group was Allen Griffin 71%, DeShaun Williams 76%, and Preston Shumpert 76%. That’s a pretty decent group when you have three starters shooting better than 75% from the line. They had the black hole of Jeremy McNeil / Billy Celluck in the middle, neither of whom could buy a free basket; but neither were significant scorers in the first place, and the two combined only went to the free throw line 56 times that year.
1993-1994 had four starters over 70%, with Adrian Autry leading the charge at 78.4%. John Wallace 76%, Luke Jackson 76%, and Lawrence Moten 70% rounded out the foursome. Again, a hole at center with Otis Hill (58.5%) and J.B. Reafsnyder (60%). The center duo did take 105 free throws between them, so it did hurt the Orangemen a little. And truth be told, Moten’s actual number was a smidge under 70% if we included the decimal (69.8%).
1991-1992 wasn’t too bad. Lawrence Moten led the way at 75% and made the most. Adrian Autry shot 70%, as did Conrad McRae (surprise!); Dave Johnson was a hair better at 71%. The weak link on that starting five? SU’s venerable assistant coach Mike Hopkins at a lowly 63%. Ironically, he was one of the perimeter shooters!
1985-1986 had some shooters. Wendell Alexis, in his first season as a starter led the way at 81%. Raf Addison was just behind at 79%. The Pearl, a clutch free throw shooter, was 73%, and Howard Triche was at 70%. Rony Seikaly held up his end in the reputation for centers, as he shot a lowly 56%.
1984-1985 also could shoot. The Pearl was probably the best that season, at 78%. Michael Brown had the highest percent at 87%, but with only 23 free throw attempts on the season, he hardly counts. Raf Addison came in at 73% and Andre Hawkins was a pleasant surprise at 76%. Rony Seikaly was again the hole in the middle at 56%. Wendell Alexis came off the bench with significant playing time and free throw attempts at 77%.
1983-1984 had Raf Addison leading the way at 84%. Sean Kerins 79%, Andre Hawkins 74%, and Gene Waldron 74% rounded out the four. The Pearl was the weak link at 66% that season. Wendell Alexis was a deadly free throw shooter as the top reserve at 82%.
I think it’s noteworthy that those three consecutive seasons previously mentioned were pretty good from the line. They were teams that were playing in the hey day of the Big East, and didn’t have quite as much talent as the monster Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova squads. Yet, the Orange had some of their best fundamental players (Addison and Alexis), decent free throw shooting to keep them in games, and of course, one of the greatest clutch players in Orange history, the Pearl.
1980-1981 SU had Marty Headd at 88% leading the way, until he broke his wrist (Tony Bruin was a big drop off at 69% when he entered the starting lineup as a result of the injury). Danny Schayes took the bulk of the free throw attempts at 82%; Erich Santifer was 73% and Leo Rautins 79%. Eddie Moss was the low man at 69%, which isn’t too bad for the worst of the starting five.
And finally, 1971-1972 needs a special note. Of the top eight players in terms of playing time, only two had free throw shooting that was even half way decent. However, those two shot the lights out, and they had 55% of the total attempts for the team that season. Greg Kohls shot a blistering 86% on a huge 222-257, while Mike Lee was 142-171 for 83%. So while you couldn’t say the team was very good, when over 55% of your free throw attempts are by an 83% or better shooter, that’s pretty good. Kohls was a master perimeter shooter, and was very adept at drawing fouls (as the free throw attempts suggest).
I have limited stats prior to the late 60’s on free throw shooting, so evaluating team efforts earlier than that is difficult. There were some outstanding individual free throw shooters in the 60s (Dave Bing, John Suder, Richie Cornwall, and Rick Dean).
As a side note, prior to 1924, the NCAA rule regarding free throws was that any player on the court could take a free throw when a foul was committed. So teams had designated free throw shooters (there were rarely substitutions in games). Obviously, in this setup, a team with one excellent free throw shooter, would be an outstanding free throw shooting ‘team’ (albeit a team of one). Joe Schwarzer and Wilbur Crisp were noted to be outstanding during their era, so one could suppose those teams were excellent free throw shooting squads.
So while many Orangemen have broken our hearts by missing the easy ones, there were clearly some squads who brought us some joy from there… it just seems so hard to remember them!