Throughout head coach Mike Rhoades’ tenure at VCU, he has consistently discussed “keeping the ball hot,” – his term for running an offense that consistently moves the ball.
In Monday night’s 73-56 victory over Manhattan at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in Richmond, Rhoades’ vision came to fruition.
On a night where half of the players that hit the floor for the Rams were making their VCU debut, the team totaled 12 assists on 23 made field goals.
The offensive onslaught was led by the face of the team, junior guard Ace Baldwin. The Baltimore native tallied nine of VCU’s assists, while also leading the team with 15 points. The nine assists were one shy of Baldwin’s career high, a mark he has hit twice.
Three other Rams hit double figures in scoring, led by graduate transfer Brandon Johns Jr. The former Michigan Wolverine scored 13 points, including seven in quick succession in the game’s opening stanzas, to back up the considerable buzz he had built after good performances during the Black and Gold Game and VCU’s “secret scrimmage” against Villanova.
The scoring for VCU came in bunches, most notably in a 9-0 run during the final minutes of the first half. The run was punctuated with authority after Baldwin hit redshirt sophomore Jamir Watkins with a no-look pass in the corner, leading to an uncontested 3-pointer.
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Monday’s game marked a return for Watkins, who missed the entire 2021-22 season following a right ACL tear. He made his return during the Black and Gold Game with a sizeable brace on the injured knee, but looked like he had not missed a step during Monday’s game. Watkins matched Johns with 13 points, while adding four rebounds in 24 minutes of action.
Sophomore forward Jalen DeLoach was the fourth Ram in double figures, scoring 10 points on 50% shooting Monday night. He led VCU with nine rebounds but picked up a technical foul during his 24 minutes of game action.
Manhattan’s defense held VCU in check for a large part of the second half, holding VCU without a field goal during the final four and a half minutes of the game. Earlier in the second half, the Rams were held without a field goal for more than nine minutes, allowing the Jaspers to close within 13.
Ultimately, VCU’s early offensive explosion and lockdown defense held the Jaspers under 60 points. VCU’s defense forced 27 turnovers, while VCU’s offense turned the ball over 16 times.
Fifth-year senior Elijah Buchanan was Manhattan’s most consistent player on offense, scoring 16 points while leading the Jaspers with four assists. Fifth-year forward Josh Roberts was the only other Manhattan player in double figures, scoring 14 points on a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor.
But foul trouble ultimately tightened the rotation, with starter Nick Brennen and sixth-man Ant Nelson both fouling out with more than six minutes to play in the game. The pair combined for 12 points and 10 rebounds during Monday’s game.
Manhattan’s tight rotation led to an early season highlight, after graduate student Matthew Glassman made the first field goal of his collegiate career. Glassman, who had previously been 0-for-4 on his career, hit the jumper with 2:24 to go in the game. There were audible cheers in the crowd for Glassman, a three time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference All-Academic Team honoree, following his first career bucket.
The Manhattan program opened the season as a team facing a tumultuous season. Two weeks before the season began, Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello was fired by the university after a decade at the helm and with one year remaining on his contract.
Masiello’s firing caused some players to transfer out of the program, including preseason MAAC Player of the Year Jose Perez, who committed to play his final collegiate season at West Virginia.
VCU will remain at home during the opening week of the season. The Rams will play on Saturday night at the Siegel Center against Morgan State. Morgan State lost its opening game of the season to Xavier, 96-73, on Monday night.