You have to make your free throws.
In a game that saw Penn stick around with No. 1 seed Kansas but ultimately fall by a score of 76-60, the biggest disparity between the two teams was free throw shooting. Kansas was on fire from the charity stripe all night, while the Quakers failed to take advantage of many of their opportunities.
The Jayhawks, who came into this game with a shooting percentage of 70.0 from the foul line, converted on 15 of their 17 attempts. Penn, on the other hand, shot 5 for 14 on free throws. This performance is disappointing, even from a team that had shot just 66.3 percent in the regular season.
"I do feel foul shots were a big part of this, and this unfortunately was part of our DNA this year," coach Steve Donahue said. "We were able to overcome it. But if you're going to beat a team like Kansas in this environment, you just gotta make 'em."
Kansas’ success with its foul shots could have been a result of the players’ experience and ease playing in big games like tonight’s. The Red and Blue have had much less experience this year competing in the national spotlight, and while they didn’t look intimidated by the Jayhawks, the Quakers’ free throw struggles may have been because of nerves.
Success from the line would have also put more pressure on Kansas to make plays defensively down the stretch. But with the Quakers struggling, Kansas knew it could afford to play tough, physical defense. This increased defensive aggressiveness stopped Penn from finding its rhythm offensively. In particular, sophomores AJ Brodeur and Ryan Betley failed to get consistent good looks in the second half.
"It's more than just the points. It's a — your morale kind of gets a hit. Your defense may sulk a little bit, but I thought that was a big part of this," Donahue said.
Ultimately, the result cannot solely be attributed to this difference between the teams, but being more solid from the stripe would have kept Penn in the mix until the very end. The Red and Blue just couldn’t remain close enough in the final couple of minutes, and much of that can be attributed to the free throw shooting disparity.