VCU surges in second half to rout Florida Atlantic
1 of 4
VCU’s Adrian “Ace” Baldwin Jr., left, and Florida Atlantic’s Michael Forrest compete for the ball during the first half of men’s basketball game at Sigel Center, VCU, in Richmond, Va., on Wednesday, December 15, 2021.
VCU’s Levi Stockard III (34) works on defense against Florida Atlantic’s Alijah Martin during the first half of men’s basketball game at Sigel Center, VCU, in Richmond, Va., on Wednesday, December 15, 2021.
VCU’s Ace Baldwin Jr. (left) and KeShawn Curry celebrate after a Rams basket against visiting Florida Atlantic on Wednesday night. Baldwin made nine assists to key VCU’s fourth straight victory.
VCU’s Nick Kern Jr., left, and Jayden Nunn, right, work on defense against Florida Atlantic’s Michael Forrest during the first half of men’s basketball game at Sigel Center, VCU, in Richmond, Va., on Wednesday, December 15, 2021.
With just over 14 minutes to play in Wednesday’s matchup between VCU and visiting Florida Atlantic, Ace Baldwin dished a pass to teammate Josh Banks.
The pass set Banks up with a quality look from 3 — so good of a look that, even before the shot connected, a smirking Baldwin jogged back the other direction, arms raised in celebration.
It was that kind of second half for Baldwin. And it was that kind of second half for the Rams.
Baldwin had seven of his nine assists in the second half, and VCU took off after halftime, turning a close game into a rout.
The Rams won 66-46 at the Siegel Center, their fourth victory in a row.
“That’s the way we got to play,” Mike Rhoades said of VCU’s second-half offensive performance. “We got to execute plays. We got to share the ball.”
KeShawn Curry led VCU with 13 points. Freshmen Jayden Nunn and Jalen DeLoach finished with 9 each. Nunn had 7 of his after halftime, and DeLoach 8 of his. DeLoach’s 9 points were a career high.
It was a 1-point game, 26-25, 1:05 into the second half, after a quick 3 from Alijah Martin and quick layup from Bryan Greenlee.
But, aided by a pair of FAU (6-5) turnovers, VCU (7-4) quickly found footing to reel off a 7-0 run that set the course for how the rest of the game went. Baldwin had the first of his second-half assists on the final bucket of that run, a feed to Nunn for a layup and the foul with 16:09 to play. Nunn connected on the subsequent free throw to make it 32-25 at the 16:09 mark.
Then Baldwin really started cooking. With DeLoach playing the traditional center spot — with both Hason Ward (who made his return after missing VCU’s previous two games with an able injury) and Levi Stockard III both sitting on three fouls — Baldwin fed DeLoach on back-to-back possessions.
“I told [DeLoach] always be ready for my passes, because you don’t know when it’s coming,” Baldwin said.
DeLoach finished with a dunk and a layup, respectively, He also had another dunk about two minutes later, part of a big three-minute stretch for him, with the 6 points and also a block.
DeLoach’s second dunk was part of a 7-for-7 stretch from the field for VCU. The Rams led 46-32 at that point, with 12:58 left.
The Savannah, Ga., native’s two blocks also tied a career high.
“This was his best game of his career,” Rhoades said of DeLoach’s night. “He did some great things today, and we’re going to need that moving forward.”
FAU never got closer than 12 the rest of the way.
VCU shot a blistering 71.4% (15 of 21) from the field in the second half, it’s highest clip in a half by far this season.
And Baldwin had a lot to do with setting up those shots. His nine total assists were one of his career high, and he had all but three of the Rams’ 10 total assists on their 15 second-half baskets.
“Main thing, shots weren’t falling, so I wasn’t even going to force it,” Baldwin said of his second-half distribution. “I just wanted to get my other guards involved. … It just was fun tonight.”
In what was a matchup between what is the nation’s top 3-point field goal percentage defense from VCU — holding teams to 24.1% from beyond the arc — and one of the most prolific teams in the country in terms of 3s made per game in FAU (9.6 made a game, 39th in the country), something had to give Wednesday.
And the Rams took a distinct upper hand from a defensive perspective early. The Owls began the game 0 of 8 from 3-point range, and 3 of 14 overall from the field, VCU doing an effective job closing out on shooters and forcing tough looks.
VCU, at that point of the first half — with 5:30 to play before the half — had also forced eight FAU turnovers.
The Rams grappled with their own turnovers, too. But at the point that they built their largest lead of the first half, 19-7 at the 8:11 mark, the Owls were 2 of 11 from the field and on a two-and-a-half-minute field goal drought.
However, the offense slowed for both teams as the half closed — and the turnovers continued to rack up.
VCU finished the half 1 of 8 from the field in the final seven and a half minutes. That helped FAU creep back as close as 4, but the Owls also finished the half with a two-minute scoring drought.
The Rams led 26-20 at the end of a half in which they and the Owls combined for 28 turnovers (FAU 16 and VCU 12).
“We had to keep playing basketball, the game wasn’t over,” Curry said of moving past the at-times sloppy first half. “So, let go and keep moving forward.”
FAU finished 5 of 23 (21.7%) from 3-point range, a season low. VCU forced a final total of 25 FAU turnovers, its most since it forced 25 in a game at Saint Joseph’s last December. But the Rams finished with 22 turnovers of their own.
Martin had 13 points to lead the Owls, including three of the Owls’ 3-pointers.
Next for VCU is a game back at home on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Penn State, completing a home-and-home series between the two schools.
“What a great opportunity for us to play a Big 10 team here at home,” Rhoades said. “And our guys are going to be ready for it. Our staff is going to prepare for it the next two days. And it should be a great game.”
Notes: VCU’s Mikeal Brown-Jones (concussion protocol) missed a third straight game Wednesday. … Jimmy Nichols Jr., despite taking the court to get shots up before Wednesday’s game, wasn’t on the bench during the game. Rhoades said Nichols wasn’t feeling well. “So we were like, ‘Let’s makes sure he’s right.’ So, he was meeting with the doctors afterward.”