Randomly, throughout any of Texas A&M men’s basketball practices, head coach Buzz Williams will shout the numbers “six, seven, eight.”
The numerical exclamation can come right in the middle of a drill and is often utilized multiple times throughout the training session.
Practice comes to a halt. Players divide evenly on both free throw lines, often trying to catch their breath from a physically taxing drill. For practice to continue, the team must alternate free throw shots from each end of the court, aiming to make six consecutive free throws, followed by a streak of seven and then eight, all within a short time limit.
If the three runs are not met, the team runs conditioning sprints up and down the court.
With a team that ranks well into the bottom third of the country in field goal percentage, hitting 39.1 percent of shots, Williams places a heavy emphasis on his players earning trips to the free throw line and then converting easy points.
“In the games that we’ve won, we’re dependent upon getting free throw makes, because it helps our points per possession,” Williams said on his weekly radio show. “It kinds of cheats the numbers. We need those.”
The Aggies rank 323rd in the country in offensive efficiency, scoring 89.9 points per 100 possessions. To Williams’ point, in all but one conference win A&M has netted at least 15 points from the free throw line. In the Aggies’ 63-58 win over Tennessee, A&M went to the line 29 times and made 26.
Williams has frequently said he wants his team’s points on free throws to be greater than an opponents amount of field goals made per game.
In the Aggies last two losses to Oklahoma State and Georgia, the team has fallen well short of all marks, making nine and five points from free throws respectively. Against Georgia, the Aggies made it to the free throw line nine times.
“From an offensive standpoint, if we only make five, that probably means we’re stagnant or more normally stagnant offensively,” Williams said. “We’re not forcing the team into rotation, so they aren’t fouling us.”
As has been the case from the field, conversion of attempts has plagued the Aggies throughout the season. In A&M’s 81-67 home loss to South Carolina, the Aggies managed to get to the free throw line 41 times, but only converted on 28 attempts. For the season, A&M hits free throws at a a 67.5 clip, ranking third-to-last in the conference.
As the program continues to develop under Williams, the head coach hopes his team will average 19 to 22 percent of its points from the free throw line while shooting above 73 percent.
“We’re not there,” Williams said. “We’ve improved in regards to free throw makes. We’ve improved relative to our percentage.”
The Aggies have leaned on post players Josh Nebo and Emanuel Miller to lead the charge to the free throw line, drawing fouls off rebounds and layups. Nebo has gone to the line a team-high 103 times, converting 64 percent of his chances. In conference play, he is followed by guard Quenton Jackson, who has 32 trips to the line and Miller, who has 28. Jackson and Miller are shooting 69 percent and 61 percent respectively.
Williams said he hopes guard Andre Gordon can improve his ability to drive the lane and create more shooting fouls.
Tuesday, when the Aggies (10-10, 4-4 in SEC) welcome Missouri (10-11, 2-6 in SEC) to Reed Arena for an 8 p.m. tip, they will face a Tiger squad that ranks second to last in the SEC in committing personal fouls and averages 21.2 opponent free throw attempts per game. In the two team’s first meeting, a 66-64 A&M win, A&M went to the free throw line 26 times, converting 16.
How do they continue to see growth in these key stats?
“Six, seven, eight.”
“That’s probably the best pressure free throw drill I’ve ever come a cross,” Williams said. “It’s probably the most realistic way to shoot free throws that matter.”
• Matchup: Missouri at Texas A&M
• When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
• Where: Reed Arena (12,989).
• Records: Texas A&M (10-10, 4-4 SEC); Missouri (10-11, 2-6)
• TV: SEC Network, Ch. 40
• Radio: WTAW (1620 AM, 94.5 FM)
• Line: pick ‘em
• Next: Texas A&M at South Carolina, Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, S.C., noon Saturday