It's a funny little thing, free-throw shooting. Ovie Soko gives a little half-embarrassed laugh whenever someone brings up his current hot streak from the charity stripe. But for a career 60-percent free-throw shooter, this is a significant run.
After a starting the season out fine, hitting 22 of 32 attempts in the first four games, Soko fell apart against Pitt (11 of 20) and UMBC (2 of 6), so he went looking for help. He found it in sophomore guard Micah Mason, a sharpshooter who at that time was sidelined with a broken hand.
I asked Soko about the turnaround after he hit all 10 attempts in a comeback victory against St. Francis.
"It's just focus and slowing down," he said. "And Micah." He gave his little chuckle and explained. "I asked Micah after the two games back to back, Pitt and the [UMBC] game where I missed four free throws, 2 for 6. Micah just said to keep my eyes on the rim. He's clearly the best shooter on the team. That's was good advice; it seems to be working, so I'll keep doing that."
Well, that seems a little too simple. The proof, though, is in the numbers.
Here's what Mason had to say last week after Soko's 8-for-11 day made him .839 from the foul line the last six games. (It was Soko's fourth consecutive 20-point game. It's a lot easier to get 20 points when you're shooting nearly 85 percent from the line.)
“He’s definitely improved from the foul line — I don’t even remember him missing before this game," Mason said. "I just told him to keep his eyes on the hoop, because he was dribbling with his head down. We fixed that, and he started making them. I need to start making my foul shots, too.”
That was it?
“Yeah [laughs], he was putting his head down while he was dribbling, and he’d look up to shoot. I think that was the main reason. That’s what I told him.”
Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said the coaching staff took a different approach with the whole team after the loss against Pitt, a game in which the Dukes were a combined 18 of 35 (.514) from the free-throw line. (Yes, Soko's bad day was actually better than the team's average.)
"You know, to be honest, as a team we just stopped talking about it. We just stopped talking about it. We're getting fouled; we're getting our 25 free throws per game. Just relax, step up to the line and make your free throws. Repetition, they know what to do. We shoot them every day, so just shoot them with a little confidence."