Jan. 19, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– When you stand 6-8, 260, you’re expected to be close to the top of your conference in rebounding not free throw shooting.
Power forward Nick Jacobs is living up to those expectations, as his 5.7 rebounds per game rank 23rd in the ACC. Conference-leader Charles Mitchell is the only Yellow Jacket pulling down more rebounds per game.
When it comes to foul shooting, Jacobs is surpassing expectations, as he’s even closer to the top. He’s not in the top 10 — the only Yellow Jacket who can boast that is guard Marcus Georges-Hunt, who is tied for 10th at 80 percent — but Jacobs is right there.
He actually was at 80 percent following his 6-for-7 day at the line in Tech’s 68-64 upset of No. 4 Virginia on Jan. 9, at McCamish Pavilion but dipped below 80 after going 1-for-2 on Saturday against Virginia Tech. He will enter Saturday’s game against Louisville (4 p.m. at McCamish) shooting 78.4 percent (29-for-37).
Still, Jacobs has proved to be one of the Jackets’ most dependable foul shooters. He’s the only player on the team that has yet to miss more than one free throw in a game (minimum 20 attempts).
He also has come up big in his role coming off the bench, not an easy adjustment after starting the Jackets’ first 10 games then the first two conference games. In the three games since being moved back to sixth man, Jacobs has averaged 13.7 points, putting up his first back-to-back-to-back double-digit scoring games since the first four games of the season, while shooting 53.1 percent (17-for-32), grabbing 5.7 rebounds, including seven against the Hokies — the most he’s pulled down in five games — and shooting 77.8 percent from the line (7-for-9, including the 6-for-7 against the Cavaliers).
Jacobs took time out to talk with The Good Word about staying sharp off the bench, staying focused at the line and staying in the game late.
THE GOOD WORD: You’ve had to handle starting then not starting. Was it tough to come off the bench?
Nick Jacobs: Of course. Once you get used to starting it’s tough but at the same time you have to understand that the coaches know what’s best. Unfortunately, I do some things as a player that I shouldn’t do and then I pay for it. Once you get to the next level there is small room for error and you have to be able to live with it and, once again, once your name is called, come out and perform. That’s what I did.
TGW: You came up big in the win over Virginia, your first conference game off the bench. Where does that in rank in your career? Was that your first win ever over a top-five program?
JACOBS: Top five? Yeah. We came close to beating Kentucky one year [at Alabama], but that’s tough (laughs). By far the Virginia game was the most key win as far as my career. I’m really proud of that and really proud we were able to come out with the win. We have to understand we’re expected to win, and we have to continue executing and doing the right things by going hard in practice, watching film and trusting the coaches and just trusting and knowing that we’re going to get it done in the next game.”
TGW: There’s a perception that big men aren’t good free throw shooters, yet you’re a 78 percent shooter. What makes you good at the line?
JACOBS: That’s something I really worked on because I was not a great free throw shooter. My best free throw shooting percentage overall at my last school was probably 62 (actually, 60.3 as a sophomore during the 2013-14 season at Alabama), my worst was 45, something like that (his toughest critic, Jacobs’ worst season was 57.1 as a junior). That was something I really keyed in over the summer as far as my game. I know as a player, I’m going to get fouled a lot because I’m physical.
TGW: You shot 6-for-7 from free throw line against Virginia. Were you surprised they kept fouling you?
JACOBS: It was during the heat of the game. Of course, I have my thoughts and all that but at the same time, the coaches felt if they fouled me I was going to miss free throws. But with the time and effort that I’ve put in, the coaches and the players were confident that I was going to knock them down.
TGW: Where have you made the biggest improvement, mentally or mechanically?
JACOBS: It was both. At first, whenever I shot my free throws, I always lifted my left hand off the ball as I was going up to get a better touch and then at one point I used to always fiddle around with the ball before I went up. The coaches also worked on free throws when I’m tired. Doing drills, doing full-court drills and running back and shooting free throws so I could focus in on my touch and not think about being tired. I worked all summer, the coaches helped me. Almost every day I shoot 100 free throws before I leave, and I make sure I make over 80 percent before I leave. If not I start it back over.
BONUS -TGW: With your ability to knock down free throws, you’re likely going to be out on the floor late in games. How nice is it to know you’re going to be out there at crunch time?
JACOBS: At first the coaches didn’t have confidence in my defense at some points, so that’s why I was taken out of the game. They pulled me out sometimes. In previous games I proved that I could guard other teams’ best players. So it’s all about me building the confidence of the coaches. It does feel good NOT being pulled out (laughs).