ATHENS — There were a few plays that could have turned Georgia into a stunning winner over Kentucky last year, and Charles Mann had one of them: Driving to the basket late with a four-point lead, Mann went up, trying to get fouled. No call came, Mann’s shot went nowhere, and Kentucky went downcourt, further cutting the lead and eventually winning the game.
Mann has gotten fouled a lot and made a lot of free throws in his Georgia career. But there were times last year, he acknowledged, that he went to the hoop expecting a foul to be called, and it wasn’t.
“The way they called the game last year I guess was kinda different,” Mann said. “But I’ve gotta improve on that and focus on finishing at the rim and not looking for the contact and the foul.”
Plenty was made last year about Mann’s free throw shooting, but some of it is missing the point. For one, Mann’s free throw-percentage wasn’t bad overall: He shot 66.8 percent, slightly down from the previous two years (70 percent as a sophomore and 68.8 as a freshman).
What did change last year was the amount of times Mann got to the line. He only attempted 220 free throws, down 58 from his sophomore season.
Mann is hoping that rules changes this year will help that. College basketball officials have been told to watch for contact more this season.
But Mann also knows that he can’t depend on the foul calls. He has to finish better, and hope for a chance at a three-point play, rather than just two free throws.
“Growing up, that’s just who I’ve been: Being physical. Especially with my size and everything, that’s just who I am,” said Mann, a 6-foot-5 guard. “We’ll just see how this year goes. They said they’re supposed to call the game like they were two years ago, in which I went to the free throw line 277 times. So that’s kinda exciting.”
It was actually 278. But Mann was pretty close.
In any event, Mann does hope he’s back in position to make plays, including at the free throw line. Some of the angst over his shooting was deserved, as he seemed to go into a funk at key times in certain games.
“From last year, I think about a couple plays in which I missed a free throw within the last minute to win the game,” Mann said. “But things like that happen. I just continue to work hard and try to improve on that so the next situation it’d be a different result.”
But coach Mark Fox pointed out that Mann hit some critical free throws as well. He nailed them down the stretch at Auburn in the regular season finale, icing a win that probably cemented Georgia’s spot in the NCAA tournament.
“He made a lot of free throws to win games for us,” Fox said. “He really has. He’s made a ton of really good free throws at key moments for our team. He has confidence at our line. He’s worked to try to become an even better free throw shooter than he’s been. Hopefully he will get there a lot, because with the rule changes this year that’s something that could be a real impact on the game.”