Free-throw shooting funk haunts slumping Rebels

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – If you can’t beat them – or in this case, can’t guard them – join them.
Trying to fix a fouling funk that has contributed to five losses in six games for Ole Miss, Andy Kennedy is encouraging his players to be more aggressive with hopes of getting to the foul line themselves.
Earlier this week the Ole Miss coach put pen to paper and came up with statistics that most people who have followed the Rebels could have guessed but perhaps not to the level of the shocking truth.
“It’s staggering,” Kennedy said.
That is the fact that Ole Miss (17-9, 5-7 SEC), while losing four SEC home games by a combined 19 points was outscored 96-36 at the free throw line.
Needing four wins in four remaining games – and probably more in the SEC tournament – to attract NCAA tournament interest, the Rebels play host to Auburn (13-14, 4-8 SEC) tonight at 7.
Since losing 84-74 to Ole Miss at Auburn – in a game that dramatically affected the Rebels’ immediate future by way of a sprained ankle to freshman forward Reggie Buckner – the Tigers have gone 3-3. Two of those losses were overtime road games at Arkansas and Mississippi State.
Auburn is coming off a 92-83 home win over Arkansas.
The Tigers lead the SEC with 687 3-point attempts. They have no imposing post presence, so the Rebels’ free throw weakness may not be as pronounced. In the first meeting, Ole Miss was 9-for-13 from the line, Auburn 9-for-14.

Fight fire with fire
The free throw discrepancy, however, weighs heavily on Kennedy these days. Relief could come not in the rapid improvement of his big guys in defending the space around the basket but in his bigger guards – Terrico White, Eniel Polynice and Zach Graham – getting into the lane and to the free-throw line themselves. The idea is to fight fire with fire.
“Our big wings were recruited here and put in position. Our whole offense is based around them imposing their athleticism at the basket. We’re just not getting it done,” Kennedy said.
Polynice has attempted 31 free throws in SEC play, White just 24 and Graham 20.
White averaged 3.6 free throw attempts in SEC games last year while playing point guard. Now, as the 2 guard, he’s averaging two attempts. He hasn’t attempted a free throw in the last three games, all losses, and has gone without an attempt in five of 12 SEC games.
Warren is shooting 84.6 percent at the line, but by the nature of his game, getting to the free-throw line is more difficult. He’s an aggressive driver and looks for opportunities, but he’s looking for a clean 3-point look first. When he does drive, his 5-foot-10 frame makes it easier for much bigger players to get a clean block.
“I won’t say it’s not my game,” Warren said. “It’s a known fact we have to get to the line. We all know the statistics. They make more free throws than we attempt sometimes. Everybody knows we have to get to the paint, try to draw some fouls. It’s about having the will to do it.”
Kennedy doesn’t want Warren to always have the will, even if he has the way.
“Chris Warren is a young man who we need to be a volume perimeter shooter, and he’s shooting it better than he has his entire life,” Kennedy said.
Warren is shooting 41.1 percent from 3-point range in SEC games, a figure that shares the league lead with Vanderbilt’s Jermaine Beal. Warren has 17 more attempts than Beal.
“I try to get a couple of inside looks to tighten things up and maybe get an open look at a 3-pointer,” Warren said. “We know if we’re not getting fouled we need to get to the cup and finish.”

Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or parrish.alford@djournal.com