Rams 3-0 behind a pair of home wins

Peter Mason
Contributing Writer

The Rams opened their season 3-0 for the second consecutive year behind two dominating performances at home: one that saw the Rams pull away in the second half against the University of Toledo, and another game in which the Rams destroyed the University of Maryland Eastern Shore by 50 points.

In the first five minutes of the second half the Rams outscored the Toledo Rockets 13-6 to take a 55-51 lead. Free throws from freshman guard Jonathan Williams and senior guard/forward Treveon Graham would hand the lead back to VCU. The second half saw two more lead changes before VCU finally won the battle after a 66-66 tie with a little more than eight minutes remaining.

Junior guard Melvin Johnson drives to the basket against University of Toledo forward Nathan Boothe on Tuesday, Nov. 18. photo by Audry Dubon

A successful free throw attempt from redshirt sophomore guard Jordan Burgess and two more baskets from the line made by senior guard Briante Weber gave the Rams a lead they would not relinquish. Overall for the last eight minutes, they outscored Toledo 21-12, and 13 of those points were scored off of free throw attempts.

The Rams won their home opener in commanding fashion after a rocky start. Graham and junior guard Melvin Johnson led the Rams in scoring, with 22 points each. Junior center Nathan Boothe was the leading scorer for Toledo with 18 points.

Thursday night’s game against the UMES Hawks told a different story. From Weber’s layup in the first 10 seconds of the game, to freshman guard/forward Terry Larrier’s final three-pointer one minute before the game’s end, the Rams dominated the full 40 minutes in a 106-66 blowout for their second victorious night at the Seigel Center.

“We only had one day to practice and prepare,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “I thought our guys did a good job turning the page from a pretty challenging game on Tuesday and being ready for tonight.”

The game was never even close. The Rams jumped out to an 18-0 lead in just the first four minutes of the game. The closest the Hawks came to cutting the deficit was when UMES senior guard Devon Walker hit a three-pointer, which cut VCU’s lead to 38-26 with a little more than nine minutes remaining in the first half. The Rams built their lead back up quickly however with a 22-4 run, and finished the first half with a 61-30 lead at the break.

More of the younger freshmen players were able to see playing time in the second half with the Rams having such a big advantage.

“I like the fact that everyone got to play,” Smart said. “Our freshmen got a lot of experience which is good. We’re always looking for opportunities to give them time on the court, and in the real game. I don’t think there will be a lot of games like this (one) this season, but certainly we want to take the opportunity to rest some of the older guys and play some of the younger guys and give them some experience.”

Against the Hawks, freshman forward Larrier looked every bit the highly touted recruit whom VCU brought on to ensure continued success. The Bronx, New York native had a career night three games into his collegiate career, going 7-10 from the floor, including 4-7 from the three-point line.

Shooting inconsistencies plagued Larrier in his first two games, as the 6-foot-8 swingman shot 3-14 from the floor and only banked one three-point shot in nine attempts.

The performance would provide a much-needed confidence boost for the student-athlete.

“My confidence is at a good level, but it needs to keep going up,” Larrier said.

Although the Rams won the game by a commanding 50 points, Smart stated that he believed the team fouled too much, and 66 points is still too many points for them to have given up. VCU began the second half with a 7-0 run, and after that the Hawks were never able to cut the deficit to less than 30 points in the entire 20 minute period.

In the first half, the Rams shot 61.1 percent in field goals and 62.5 percent in three-point field goals. Five players for the Rams hit double figures, and all the Rams except for one managed to score points.

This game was the first time since a January 2013 encounter against East Tennessee State University in which the Rams would score more than 100 points. The victory moved the Rams to 3-0. The game will put VCU in a good position as they prepare to travel to Brooklyn to face Villanova on Monday.

“This was a stepping stone,” Johnson said. “We didn’t want to come out here nameless and faceless, we just wanted to come out here, play good basketball and learn from it. These underclassmen came in and did what they had to do.”

VCU will take an undefeated 3-0 record into Brooklyn against the Villanova Wildcats on Monday, Nov. 24, a team that also holds a record of 3-0, and which also defeated UMES by a large margin of 81-44.

“This game tonight is going to bear very, very little resemblance in our next two games,” Smart said about the blowout win. “So I think that the sooner that our guys understand that and understand what we need to do, the quicker we can move on. Every game is different, but we need to continue to grow on the defensive end.”   

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