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Aces wild: Baldwin’s career night lifts VCU over Saint Louis

Last January, the A10 Talk Twitter account was asked to rank the top five point guards in the Atlantic 10 conferences during a Twitter question-and-answer session.

The list included one glaring omission: VCU point guard Ace Baldwin.

Thirteen months later, Baldwin has cast in stone his position as not only a top-five point guard in the Atlantic 10, but as the conference’s best floor general.

In a sold-out road tilt at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, Baldwin led the VCU Rams (18-6, 9-2 A-10) to a 73-65 win over the Saint Louis Billikens (15-8, 7-3 A-10), retaking the top spot in the A-10 while picking up a key Quadrant 2 victory.

The junior guard from Baltimore was explosive.

Baldwin scored a career-high 37 points in the Friday night victory in one of the most dominant scoring efforts in VCU history. The mark was the first time a VCU player scored 37 or more points since Justin Tillman scored 37 in an overtime win against Dayton in 2018, and is only the fourth time since 2000 a VCU Ram has scored 37 or more points in a game.

The points came off of almost-unheard-of efficiency. Baldwin shot 12-for-15 from the floor and 4-for-5 from 3-point range, stamping one of the most efficient nights in all of college basketball this season.

Baldwin’s scoring came in a variety of ways. Baldwin’s mid-range game has elevated to stratospheric heights in recent games, and he continued to dominate inside the arc. He made shots from midrange in a variety of ways, whether that be off the glass, from the elbow or just centimeters inside the 3-point arc.

The 4-for-5 mark from 3-point range tied an identical performance against Vanderbilt for Baldwin’s best night from deep on the season in games where he shot multiple 3-point attempts. One of those 3-pointers beat the halftime buzzer, giving the Rams a 34-31 lead into the locker room after what was a back-and-forth game complete with both teams going on runs of 7-0 or longer.

The second half was a nip-and-tuck affair throughout, with the two teams staying within three points of each other throughout until back-to-back jumpers by Baldwin gave the Rams a five-point lead with five minutes to play.

Answers by Baldwin and Jalen DeLoach gave the Rams a seven-point advantage with 2:05 to play – a lead VCU never surrendered on the way to securing the upset.

Beyond the scoring, which included a perfect 9-for-9 from the free throw line, Baldwin stuffed the stat sheet. While he fell below his season average by only dishing out a pair of assists, he provided four rebounds and two steals to the VCU winning effort – while committing just one turnover in 38 minutes.

Reaction to Baldwin’s performance – in a nationally-televised A-10 showcase on ESPN – was swift on social media. Former VCU star and A-10 Player of the Year Bones Hyland referred to his ex-teammate as the “BEST GUARD IN THE COUNTRY” in an Instagram comment, while teammates and analysts around social media praised the career night.

Baldwin’s jersey number – No. 1 – may in fact match his ranking among the A-10’s point guards.

DeLoach double-double

Jalen DeLoach returned to the starting lineup after a one-game spell with the second unit against Davidson earlier in the week.

The sophomore from Georgia did not miss a beat, resuming his role as VCU’s consistent double-double threat.

DeLoach scored 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds, securing his fourth double-double in conference play this season. The 11 boards were two shy of his season-high, set against La Salle on New Year’s Eve.

Head coach Mike Rhoades said following the Davidson game – a 61-59 road victory – that David Shriver replaced DeLoach in the starting lineup because DeLoach had accumulated multiple technical fouls on the season.

While the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Rhoades stated that multiple technical fouls are not acceptable, Rhoades said he talked about it with DeLoach and called the sophomore a “difference-maker” in the Davidson win.

DeLoach remained a difference maker on Friday night. His 11 rebounds was five more than any other player secured in the game, while he dished out a season-high-tying three assists.

The closest player to DeLoach in rebounds on Friday night was graduate student Brandon Johns Jr., who was also the only other Ram in double-figures. His 15 points came on an efficient 7-for-10 shooting in 31 minutes on the floor.

A word about SLU

Saint Louis entered Friday night with the lead in the A-10 standings. They left down 1.5 games and behind in the head-to-head to VCU.

Gibson Jimerson came out firing, connecting on five 3-pointers while leading the Billikens with 24 points. At times in the first half, Jimerson showed off his offensive explosive while allowing the Billikens to claw up to a lead that approached double-digits. He also led the Billikens with five rebounds.

Yuri Collins, among the best point guards in the conference, was effectively shut down on the offensive end. He scored four points, far below his season average of 11.5, on 2-for-8 from the floor. Collins also turned the ball over four times, the highest amongst the Billikens.

Despite the scoring struggles, Collins tallied a game-high 11 assists on Friday night. Friday’s game marked Collins’ 13th game of the season with 10 or more assists.

Jimerson was joined in double figures by Jake Forrester and Javonte Perkins, who scored 12 and 11 points respectively. Forrester did much of his work down in the paint and shot 6-for-7 from the floor, while Perkins connected three times from beyond the arc.

Nuggets of note

Earlier in the week, VCU defeated Davidson 61-59 on the road at Belk Arena – despite going 0-for-9 as a team from 3-point range. The game was the first time the Rams failed to make a 3-pointer in a game since March 3, 2006 – in a 62-59 win against William and Mary.

After Friday’s win, VCU has won five straight road games and three straight A-10 Friday night ESPN showcase games. All three showcase wins were on the road: at Dayton, Richmond and Saint Louis.

VCU forced 14 turnovers in the win against Saint Louis, outscoring the Billikens 17-11 on points off turnovers.

VCU’s next game will be at home Feb. 7 against the Dayton Flyers. VCU narrowly beat the Flyers in an ESPN showcase game on the road earlier in conference play. Dayton entered Saturday 7-3 in conference play, with an 8 p.m. game on Saturday night against St. Bonaventure pending.