Free throws are supposed to be easy, as it is just a player and the basket. Throw in a few thousand screaming fans and 0.1 seconds left on the clock, and suddenly it gets a lot more difficult.
Cartier Martin of the Kansas State Wildcats, an 80 percent free throw shooter, found this out on Saturday, as he missed two of three free three throws after his team had rallied from a 15-point second-half deficit to pull within two points of the lead.
Martin, who led the Wildcats with 21 points, was fouled by Cory Lewis while shooting a desperation 3-pointer with the Rams leading 84-82, stepped to the line with a chance to win – or at least force overtime – but he missed his first two shots. Martin then accidentally made the third shot that he was trying to miss to set up a tip-in.
“I was confident. I make free throws every day. They just didn’t fall,” said Martin after the game. “This was is a tough one.”
Kansas State coach Bob Huggins was clearly disappointed in Martin’s misses, along with his team’s effort much of the game, even though they staged a furious rally, being in position to defeat the Rams despite trailing 79-71 with 1:04 left in the game.
“We have to learn that losing is unacceptable,” he said. “I’m not a big moral victory guy. We shouldn’t be applauded for doing what we are supposed to do.”
It seemed Lewis, who scored 30 points and went 7-8 from 3-point range, all career highs, might go from hero to goat after the foul call, which surprised everyone in Moby Arena.
“I thought it was over, but then I heard the ref blow the whistle, and saying foul on number four,” said a relieved Lewis.
Rams Head Coach Dale Layer was pleased to get the victory and felt his team’s willingness to make the extra pass was crucial.
“Cory was the beneficiary of guys passing up shots they could have had,” he said. “Cory had several games like this last year, but this year he has been very conscious of getting everyone involved.
Though the game came down to the wire, the Wildcats only lead once, 2-0 to open the game. CSU jumped in command thanks to Lewis’ three-pointers and hustle by seven-foot center Stuart Creason, who finished with 12 points and five rebounds.
“Stu was a beast out there, getting second chance buckets, rebounds out of his area, doing it all,” said Rams forward Jason Smith, who had 15 points and five rebounds of his own.
CSU raced to a 37-27 halftime lead and extended it to 50-35 with 17:05 remaining, but KSU fought back by getting second chance points. CSU, however, was able to parry the comeback attempts until the last minute of the game thanks to Lewis’ scoring.
Huggins and the Wildcats then kept extending the game with tough defense and timely fouls, going on a 12-5 run that put the fate of the game in Martin’s hands, when the crowd stepped up to rattle him.
“I haven’t heard noise like that since last year against CU, the crowd was going nuts,” said Smith.
Matthew Pucak is the men’s basketball beat writer and can be reached at email@example.com.