RICHMOND, Va. – By the time Terry Larrier scored his first points Thursday, VCU had pretty much already smothered any hope Maryland Eastern Shore had of an upset bid.
But Larrier, and VCU’s other freshmen, kept flying around the court, making plays, and provided himself with a boost of confidence in an otherwise lob-sided affair. The Rams won in a 106-66 landslide, cracking the 100-point barrier for the first time since Jan. 2, 2013, but it wasn’t even really that close. All 14 Rams played, and no VCU starter was on the floor for more than 15 minutes. Most of the night, UMES faced a mish-mash of Frankenstein lineups.
However, Thursday was about more than padding stats. Larrier scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range, and became the first VCU freshman to score more than 20 points in a game since Rob Brandenberg dropped 23 against Georgia State on Jan. 19, 2011.
Larrier’s sharpshooting was a welcome sight. VCU’s highest-rated recruit since Kendrick Warren, Larrier was 3-of-14 from the field in VCU’s first two games, including 1-of-9 from three. If you (unfairly, perhaps) lump in VCU’s exhibition game with Cal (Pa.), the Bronx native was 2-of-13 from long distance as a Ram.
But Thursday, Larrier’s stroke appeared more fluid as the game wore down and shots continued to fall. Maryland Eastern Shore is in the midst of a total rebuild and won just six games last year, but despite an obviously overmatched opponent, Larrier was happy to find his stroke.
“It definitely felt good, just getting it going, getting my confidence up. It felt real good,” Larrier said afterwards.
Larrier, a 6-foot-8, 185-pound wing, has been searching for a comfort level as he negotiates the faster, more physical style of play, as well as attempts to nestle into a role on a team replete with scorers. He certainly appeared to take a step in the right direction against the Hawks.
“Coming to college, it’s a totally different game,” Larrier said. “Guys are much bigger, faster, so I’ve still got to get accustomed to it. My confidence right now, my confidence is at a good level, but it needs to keep going up.”
Treveon Graham became the 15th player in school history to score at least 1,400 career points Thursday, but it wasn’t long ago that he was in a place similar to Larrier. As a freshman in 2011-12, Graham began his career 3-of-23 from the field. Nobody needs to be reminded that Graham has matured into one of most accomplished scorers in VCU history.
Shaka Smart certainly hasn’t forgotten the parallels. Larrier says his coach has made a point to remind him of Graham’s early struggles. Seasons and careers are not made in three games.
“He constantly reminds me of that,” Larrier said. “I just look at Tre and I talk to Tre about it. I just watch what he does and try to mimic him, and he helps me build my confidence up.”
If Larrier was watching Graham closely Thursday, then he saw the type of efficient, rugged performance that has come to define his career. There was plenty from which to learn. It’s why Larrier is happy to ask the senior for advice.
“He just tells me to keep playing hard, keep shooting and just be confident,” Larrier said.
Thursday was a step for Larrier, and a good one.
NEXT UP, NYC
Bronx natives Larrier and junior Melvin Johnson will get a homecoming in VCU’s next two games. The Rams are headed to Barclays Center Nov. 24-25 for the conclusion of the Legends Classic.
This isn’t new for Johnson. He’s played in the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Brooklyn the last two years, as well as the Rams neutral site contest against Boston College at the arena last year.
But for Larrier, Monday’s match-up with No. 12 Villanova will be his first chance to appear in New York in a VCU uniform. He’s looking forward to it.
“For me, it’s good. My family, my mom, she can come see me play. I’m going to be real excited to play back in New York. I think it’s going to be real good,” Larrier said.
Johnson can help guide him through the experience.
“I’m more excited for him than I am myself,” Johnson said. “I know how if felt for me going into Barclays my freshman year. Over 70 people came to see me, and it was overwhelming, and I just wanted to play so well in front of them. So I know for him, friends, being home, they’re really going to want to see him. Hopefully, he’ll perform well.”
YOUNG GUNS HAVE FUN
Larrier wasn’t the only one of VCU’s younger players to enjoy a stat-stuffing, confidence-fostering performance Thursday.
Sophomore guard Doug Brooks knocked down 4-of-6 field goals, including 2-of-3 from three, on the way to a career-high 11 points. Freshman forward Justin Tillman added 10 points and three blocked shots in a game-high 25 minutes, while classmates Michael Gilmore (5 points, 2 rebounds) and Jonathan Williams (2 points, 4 assists) also shined in spots.
Smart’s constant shuffling of lineups with gargantuan leads and his willingness to play youthful lineups for long stretches led to some expected defensive lapses, but all-in-all, he was happy with what he saw.
“I thought it was a good team effort. I liked the fact that everyone got to play a lot. Our freshmen got a lot of experience, which was good. We’re always looking for opportunities to get them on the court in a real game,” Smart said. “I don’t think there will be a lot of games like this this season, but certainly we wanted to take the opportunity to rest some of the older guys and play some of the younger guys and get them some experience.”
MO ALIE-COX SLAMS ONE HOME