Larrier, Huskies overcome distractions, unknowns, and past history to win on opening night
STORRS – Nothing was getting in the way of Terry Larrier Friday night at Gampel Pavilion.
Not rust after playing only four games in the last two seasons. Not the distraction of Jalen Adams’ last minute suspension for a scooter incident on campus. Not the memory of last season’s embarrassing opening night loss to Wagner. And certainly not any of the defenders Colgate threw at him. He had waited long enough.
Showing the talent that many think will take him to the NBA, and for now, showing the talent that can lead UConn back to the NCAA Tournament, Larrier scorched Colgate for 27 points, including a dominant stretch in the second half to seal the game. The Huskies prevailed in this opener, 70-58, and may have found the go-to-guy they’ve been looking for since Ryan Boatright left in 2015.
Larrier’s mid-range game was lethal Friday, as the 6-foot-8 forward shot with ease over Colgate’s defenders. The mid-range game has been all but filtered out of basketball. This can be a weapon for the Huskies as teams rarely, if at all, practice defending it.
“We noticed that (Colgate) was switching everything,” Larrier said. "They were putting their smaller guards on me, so I went down in the post and abused the matchup.”
Both coaches were very impressed with him. And UConn’s Kevin Ollie is thrilled he's back.
“He’s a great two-point shooter. He has to take advantage of that,” Ollie said. “He has a great jab step, and when he has space he can basically shoot over anyone. All great players are able to get to their spots. I think Terry tonight knew exactly where his spots were, and he got there, and he took (his shots) with poise and confidence, and knocked them down.”
“He is a tough matchup,” Colgate coach Matt Langel said. “I think the best part of his game is his mid-range game. I love, since everyone focuses on lay-ups and three-pointers, that he sticks to what he does well. He can go right around bigger guys, and against our smaller guys, he can make those mid-range shots right over them.”
Larrier made 11 of his 18 shots, including three straight baskets in the final minutes, including his only three, to dash any hopes of a Raiders comeback. The Huskies have lacked a player who can put the team on his back when things aren’t going well. Larrier’s finish gives them a lot of hope that they have that guy.
“I wasn’t surprised by his performance,” Adams said after he issued an apology for his absence. “I’ve watched him grow from when he got hurt until now, and that’s what I expected.”
Larrier sat out the 2015-16 campaign after transferring from VCU, and then tore his ACL in the fourth game of last season. It’s been a long road back to the court, from physical rehab to mental torture.
“Being away from the game for so long was really tough. It was really hard,” Larrier said. “Last season was a tough season, but I’m just blessed to be back with my team to put us in the best position to win.”
And that made his performance on Friday mean even more.
“I was anxious to get out there. In shoot-around, I was actually missing a lot and was a little worried. But when I got out there, the fans made me feel at home. My teammates made me feel good, I got a couple of easy baskets, and I was ready.”
One year ago today, UConn was humiliated in its opener, losing on the Gampel floor to Wagner, one of the worst rated Division I teams in the country. It set the tone for its first losing season in 30 years. It was not forgotten.
“Last year, the start was bad,” Larrier said. “We emphasized that we did not want to start like that this year. We’re a new team and we want to play for each other. We want to come out, play UConn basketball, and win.”
The Huskies also had promising performances from their freshmen, notably Tyler Polley and Isaiah Whaley, who combined for 17 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks. They also gave Colgate fits with their length when the Huskies pressed. Freshman Eric Cobb led UConn with eight rebounds. With new players, teams stress over the unknown of what they will bring to the table. UConn's group passed their first test.
But it was Larrier’s dominance that was the most important development for the Huskies. If the NCAA Tournament is in their future, his scoring ability will be the No. 1 reason why. It took longer than hoped, but his effort on Friday was worth the very long wait.