For a moment, VCU’s season appeared to crumble with its star player.
Late in regulation on a VCU offensive possession, sophomore guard Bones Hyland hit the ground, grabbling at what appeared to be his right ankle. Play resumed around him at a flurried pace, as the frontrunner for Atlantic 10 Player of the Year laid on the ground in obvious pain.
Soon, a timeout was called onto the floor. VCU trainers came out to work with him. Even the cardboard cutouts appeared shocked at the Siegel Center in downtown Richmond. Hyland could not put weight down on his right leg and had to be carried off by three trainers.
Visibly shake by their star player leaving the floor, VCU could not recover, losing in overtime to a George Mason team that always seems to find success at the Siegel Center. Well secure going into Saturday, VCU now finds itself squarely on the bubble heading into the last week of the A10 regular season.
The Rams did catch a break on Monday, with the announcement that Hyland’s injury is just a sprained foot. Hyland is listed as day-to-day and has already been ruled out of the Rams’ next game against Saint Louis on Tuesday night.
Hyland took to Twitter to celebrate the news while clarifying that there was no structural damage to his foot.
No fracture, no ligaments torn , etc The BLOOD of Jesus is poured all over me 🥺… I thought it was way worse!!! Thank you Jesus you are so good to me !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
— Bizzy🌟 (@BizzyBones11) February 22, 2021
For both teams, Tuesday night’s matchup at the Siegel Center represents the first playoff game of the season. Win, and you have the inside track to an at-large bid into March Madness. Lose, and you need to virtually run the table in the A10 tournament.
Player to Watch: Jamir Watkins
Suddenly, VCU is depleted at the guard position. Jarren McAllister tore his ACL early in the season. Tre Clark left the program and entered the transfer portal. And now, Hyland is out with his foot injury. Suddenly, there is a hole of about 19 points per game that needs to be filled in the short term.
When Clark left the program, I wrote that freshmen Josh Banks and Jamir Watkins had to step up to fill the void. With Hyland out, that remains true for the pair.
However, if you are looking for a possible breakout performance on Tuesday night, look no further than Watkins. While KeShawn Curry will likely get the start in lieu of Hyland, Watkins seems to be the guard most primed for a breakout performance.
Watkins has eclipsed double digits in the last two games, including a 13-point performance off the bench in the loss on Saturday afternoon against George Mason. It seems that every play Watkins makes carries the weight of the game on its shoulders, with the freshman making key blocks and steals and buckets at the right times.
On the season, Watkins is averaging 43.8% from the floor and 32.7% from deep. His 6.9 points per game average has been creeping up as his minutes have grown, with his total exceeding that average in four of the last five games. Watkins is also averaging just below one steal per game and just over two rebounds per contest. Look for Watkins to take up a lot of the available guard minutes, and don’t be surprised if Watkins hits career-highs in multiple categories on Tuesday night.
Three to Watch: Saint Louis
Saint Louis spent much of the season at the top of the power rankings here at A10Talk but have suffered some shocking defeats. While certainly among the conference’s elite, they too are coming off a touch performance. On Friday night, SLU lost at Dayton on their senior night, losing 76-53 in a game that saw the Billikens appear flat. Saint Louis is currently just outside of the NCAA tournament, making this game just as crucial for the Billikens.
- Jordan Goodwin: Goodwin is averaging a double-double thus far this season, with 14.6 points and a team-leading 10.4 rebounds per game. Goodwin, on the shortlist for conference player of the year, also leads the Billikens with 1.9 steals per game. A player like Goodwin can be a matchup problem as he stuffs the stat sheet, as seen in the Billikens’ Feb. 16 win against La Salle, where Goodwin fell two assists short of his second-career triple-double.
- Javonte Perkins: Fans of the Atlantic 10 have been robbed of the chance to see two high-caliber guards square off. The Perkins-Hyland matchup would have been one for the ages. Perkins leads the Billikens with 17.1 points per game, shooting 41.1% from behind the arc. In the loss to Dayton, Perkins was held to just seven points, his first time under 10 points in a game. Perkins’ season high in scoring is 32, which he accomplished in an 85-81 win against LSU in November.
- Hasahn French: Here is your shot-blocker. French averages a team-high 1.2 blocks per game, which is a departure from his 2.6 per game mark set last season. French’s counting stats are short of what may have been expected in the preseason, but on a night-to-night basis French still possesses the ability to wreak havoc on the defensive end. French recorded six points and six assists in Friday’s loss, while he has gone three games without a block. VCU’s goal must be to keep French from regaining his 2019-20 form.
This game is as close to a coin flip as you can get at this point in the season. Saint Louis (11-4, 4-3 A10) are the rare road favorites at the Siegel Center, opening as -1.5 favorites against the VCU Rams (16-5, 9-3 A10).
Bones Hyland and his 19.2 points per game are not walking through the tunnel on Tuesday. While the Rams still have a capable offensive leader in Vince Williams and an elite defense, losing an NBA talent like Hyland totally alters the offense. Especially without the typical Siegel Center crowd due to the COVID-19 pandemic, VCU faces an uphill battle Tuesday night. While my heart always says VCU, today my head says to pick the Billikens.
Jason’s Prediction: Saint Louis 58, VCU 56. (Record: 2-0)
Saint Louis-VCU will tip off at 6 p.m. on Tuesday evening. CBS Sports Network will have the coverage.