Free throws the key stat for Colorado State, Murray State

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A free-throw hardly captures the excitement of March Madness. But if No. 11 seed Colorado State and No . 6 Murray State have their way Thursday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the charity stripe very well could determine the outcome.

During the Mountain West Conference Tournament, CSU coach Tim Miles called his team’s free-throw rate the “smoking gun” of his offense.

Then when the matchup with Murray State was announced Sunday, Miles was quick to mention how adept the Racers are at getting fouled.

Murray State takes an average of 23.4 free throws a game and makes 73 percent of them. CSU takes 21.8 free throws a game and makes 77 percent of them, the 6th-highest in the country.

MSU coach Steve Prohm, who in his first year on the job guided the Racers to the best start in the country, spoke on Wednesday of how limiting the Rams’ trips to the free-throw line will affect the contest.

“We’ve talked to our team all week about no bad fouls, trying to keep them out of the bonus under the five-minute mark. That’s something we’ve stressed with our team all season long. No bad fouls, no bonus till under the five-minute mark in both halves,” Prohm said.

“We want to make them score over us in the half-court. We don’t want to give them free points at the free-throw line, especially at the percentage they shoot it from all five positions.

“That will be a big key. We can’t just let them get dribble penetration, get cheap reach-in fouls… If we’re going to foul, it’s got to be a contested layup to not give up a free basket … It’s going to be a big stat. We’ve done a great job — on the flip side, like (Miles) said, we’ve done a great job this season getting to the free-throw line.”

Murray State all-conference guard Donte Poole said the key to playing tough defense without fouling will be keeping the Racers’ feet moving.

“Try to stay in front of them, try to contain their dribble penetration. It’s going to be hard, they have a lot of good players, to try to keep them out of the lane,” Poole said. “We know to try and keep our hands off, try not to pick up cheap fouls, because they are a very good free-throw shooting team as well.”

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