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Penn State Basketball

‘He’s not Afraid’: Once Again, Ace Baldwin Leads Penn State to Victory

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Ace Baldwin

The man who is arguably Penn State basketball’s best player didn’t play like it in the first half of Thursday night’s win over Iowa at the Bryce Jordan Center. 

Ace Baldwin, who’s averaging 14 points per game, had more turnovers (five) than points (four) over the first 20 minutes. 

“I was a little bit careless with the ball in the first half,” Baldwin said afterward, “and as a leader and a point guard, I just had to step it up. “And that’s what I did.”

He did, indeed, scoring 18 second-half points to lead Penn State to its third straight win, an 89-79 triumph. 

Baldwin made some big shots along the way, too. 

With roughly seven minutes left, Baldwin hit a 3 to put Penn State up by one.

Penn State never lost the lead again. 

With less than a minute left, Penn State almost had the game on lock, and another Baldwin 3 sealed the deal. 

Along with those splash plays, Baldwin did the little things well, too, making each of his nine foul shots.

It was Iowa coach Fran McCaffery’s first time coaching against Baldwin who spent the first three years of his career playing in the A-10 at VCU. McCaffrey didn’t seem surprised in his postgame presser. 

“He runs the show,” McCaffrey said, “he wants the ball and he makes plays late. He’s been doing that his whole career, so it doesn’t matter what league he’s in.”

So what led to Baldwin being so much better in the second half?

“I think it’s just him,” McCaffrey said. “He decided he wanted to be more aggressive, and Mike (Rhoades) gives him that flexibility. He trusts him. You’re always going to play with great confidence when your coach trusts you like that, and you have to give the kid credit.”

Rhoades should trust Baldwin because he could well be the best player he’s had in his head coaching tenure. 

Rhoades is the only college head coach Baldwin’s known over his three-plus year career, with the bulk of it coming when both were at VCU. 

Baldwin, last season’s A-10 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, was a star at VCU and is still a star

“I’ve been saying this for a long time about Ace,” Rhoades said. “Ace will play a game and not score a point and if his team wins, he’s good. That’s how important winning is to him. … If we lose, Ace doesn’t talk to anyone for two days. That’s how competitive he is. … He’s not afraid. The dude’s not afraid. … He’s hard on himself. But he also works on his game and he has that elite competitiveness. 

Rhoades would love to take the credit but doesn’t feel he can. 

“I wish I could say it was coaching, but it’s not,” Rhoades said. “It’s an innate ability to go make a play when it’s needed. It’s a level of competitiveness that not everybody has. I think he’s an outlier in that area. He’s gonna do whatever it takes to win because winning to him is the most important thing. He’s not a good loser but I don’t mind that because he wants to win that bad.”

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