In front of a lively crowd at the Stuart C. Siegel Center — dressed in brand-new white T-shirts — the VCU Rams (22-7, 13-3 A-10) continued its hot streak, defeating Richmond (14-15, 7-9 A-10) 73-58, and remained in the driver’s seat at the top of the Atlantic 10 conference.
The victory sealed up a regular-season sweep of the Spiders for the second consecutive season. Excluding 2021, when the COVID-altered schedule led to just one playing of the Capital City Classic rivalry, VCU has swept Richmond three times in the regular season under head coach Mike Rhoades.
The win preserved VCU’s advantage at the top of the A-10 standings entering the final week of the regular season while giving the Rams a perfect 4-0 record in Friday night ESPN A-10 showcase games.
The MVP: Ace Baldwin
KenPom gave its game MVP to junior point guard Ace Baldwin – which seems to be an obvious pick when scanning the box score.
Baldwin led VCU back from a sluggish opening stanza that saw Richmond lead for much of the first 15 minutes of the game to eventually give VCU a 14-point halftime advantage. The Rams led for the duration, stretching the lead to as many as 24 points midway through the second half.
The Maryland native led the Rams with 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting, including knocking down three 3-pointers. He earned yet another “triple-nickel,” stuffing the stat sheet with a game-high eight assists and five rebounds.
For his efforts, KenPom awarded Baldwin a 29% usage rate – tops among VCU players on Friday night. His 117 offensive rating put the point guard level with graduate forward Brandon Johns – who had a nine-point, five rebound evening.
On the defensive end, Baldwin swiped four steals, extending his A-10 lead and placing Baldwin fifth in the country in steals per game entering Saturday. He also blocked two shots, tied with Johns for the team lead on Friday.
Johns fell just short of joining Baldwin and three of his other teammates as double-digit scorers, but had an effective 25 minutes on the floor. Notably, the Michigan transfer connected on a 3-pointer early in the first half, continuing a recent trend where fans have been treated to an expanded shooting range from Johns.
Sophomore guard Jayden Nunn followed up his 31-point explosion against St. Joseph’s with a seven point night on Friday. Nunn went down at the under-12 media timeout in the first half and went to the locker room, but almost immediately returned to the bench. After being spelled for a few minutes by junior guard Josh Banks (who scored two points and grabbed one rebound), Nunn returned to his regular role.
VCU’s sixth-man, redshirt sophomore Jamir Watkins, fell just one rebound short of a double-double. The Trenton, New Jersey native scored 11 points on an efficient 4-of-6 from the floor. Watkins also earned KenPom’s highest offensive rating of the game at 148.
Jalen DeLoach’s superb season continued on Friday, as he scored 10 points and secured eight rebounds in just 19 minutes of game time. DeLoach, like Johns, was whistled for four fouls during the contest and appeared to see altered game minutes as a result.
Sophomore Nick Kern was the fourth Ram in double figures, scoring 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting. Kern had the most free throw attempts of any VCU player, going 4-of-5 from the charity stripe on Friday night.
Play of the game: British Airways
England native Toibu “Tobi” Lawal was the only VCU freshman to appear in Friday night’s game, scoring four points in just five minutes of action.
Lawal found a way to make those minutes memorable.
Off a pass by Baldwin, Lawal rose up to catch the lob, spinning in mid-air and slamming home a thunderous dunk that got the sold-out Siegel Center crowd up on its feet.
— VCU Basketball (@VCU_Hoops) February 25, 2023
The dunk came late in the first half, extending VCU’s lead to 29-21 with just over four minutes until halftime. From that point, VCU ended the half on a 8-3 run.
Friday marked Lawal’s first baskets since the Rhode Island game on Feb. 15, as Rhoades has operated under a tighter rotation with the season winding down.
A word about Richmond
Richmond entered the Siegel Center coming off of an emotional 81-78 home victory against Saint Louis on Feb. 21.
The Saint Louis game was the first Richmond game since 2005 without longtime Richmond head coach Chris Mooney, who announced on Feb. 17 that he was taking a medical leave for the rest of the season and would undergo surgery to repair an ascending aorta aneurysm.
In his place stepped assistant Peter Thomas as interim head coach. Thomas, a 2007 Richmond graduate, joined the Richmond staff in May 2022 after nine seasons at Campbell, including five as associate head coach.
Richmond’s offensive strategy on Friday was to work the post to try to break the perimeter defense – a strategy that proved to benefit senior center Neal Quinn. The 7-foot Lafayette transfer scored a Richmond-career-high 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting while grabbing six rebounds. Quinn’s 37% usage rate led every player in Friday night’s game.
Tyler Burton, Richmond’s leading scorer, got into foul trouble early on by picking up two before the first media timeout. That did not slow down the senior from Massachusetts, who scored 18 points and corralled a team-high seven rebounds. Burton – along with the rest of the Spiders – was cold from outside the arc, as the team went just 4-of-22 from deep.
Beyond Burton and Quinn, the rest of the team combined for 19 points on 8-of- 27 from the floor.
Up next: Saint Louis
VCU’s final home game is set for Feb. 28 against one of the other top teams in the A-10 – Saint Louis.
The teams met in Saint Louis on Feb. 3, with Baldwin erupting for a career-high 37 points and leading VCU to a 73-65 road win.
Entering Saturday, Saint Louis is 18-10 overall and 10-5 in A-10 play, with a game against Loyola-Chicago scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday.
VCU’s home finale will also see the official jersey retirement of VCU legend Charles Wilkins, who played for the Rams when the university was first founded in 1968. Wilkins, who still holds numerous school records, had his jersey retired in 1971 but over the years the jersey and records of the honor were lost.
Wilkins’ No. 40 jersey was in the rafters already during Friday night’s game against Richmond, the last in the line of seven retired men’s basketball jerseys in the Siegel Center.
Featured image: Jason Boleman/A10Talk