At 3 p.m. on Monday, the VCU Rams were set to fly to Knoxville, Tennessee for a three-team multi-team event.
Four days later, the Rams were finishing up a third-place performance in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after a 2-1 opening week.
VCU replaced Wichita State in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic after Wichita State dropped out of the event due to positive COVID-19 tests within the program. This came a few hours after VCU’s original multi-team event, the Volunteer Classic, was canceled due to Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes and others within the Tennessee program testing positive.
The move, finalized Monday night, meant VCU had less than 48 hours to prepare for its game against Utah State. Utah State entered South Dakota as the defending Mountain West conference champions and as three-point favorites.
Their matchup Wednesday night was close throughout, but the Rams were able to build momentum late thanks to an 18-0 second half scoring run. Career-high scoring nights by Bones Hyland (23 points) and Vince Williams (15 points) led VCU to an 85-69 victory.
Newcomers Ace Baldwin and Levi Stockard started the game, along with Hyland, KeShawn Curry and Corey Douglas. Baldwin became the first freshman since Malik Crowfield in 2016 to start on opening night.
Head coach Mike Rhoades used the same starting lineup throughout the event, including in the Thanksgiving afternoon matchup with No. 15 West Virginia. West Virginia rocketed out to a 13-0 lead to open the game and never looked back, winning 78-66. Star forward Derek Culver tallied 23 points and 15 rebounds while the Mountaineers held VCU to 14.3% shooting from 3-point range. West Virginia went on to win the event championship on Friday.
Despite the defensive clinic put on by West Virginia, Hyland and Williams both eclipsed double-digit points again. Baldwin showed off his court vision as well with six assists.
The Rams closed out the event on Friday night against Memphis. Memphis head coach Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway faced VCU as a player in 1992 in an 85-58 Memphis State victory.
Hardaway’s record against VCU would not remain perfect, as VCU put together its most complete game of the event to defeat Memphis 70-59. The win sealed third place for the Rams in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic.
Williams was the star of the night, matching his career high while showing off his improved 3-point shot. The junior forward has already matched his career high for 3-pointers made in a season with six.
Hyland was held scoreless in the first half but found his groove in the second half to tally 12 points. Hyland was named to the event’s all-tournament team.
The story on Friday night was defense. VCU forced Memphis into 19 turnovers and held the Tigers to just over 35% shooting. Memphis stars Boogie Ellis and Landers Nolley II never found their offense, allowing the Rams to cruise down the stretch.
The Rams are the first team in the Atlantic 10 conference to win twice this season, despite being underdogs in all three games in South Dakota. VCU will look to build around the scoring success of Hyland and Williams with seven remaining non-conference games to play.
Baldwin has 19 total assists so far this season, good for 46.3% of VCU’s total assists. The freshman guard entered Saturday ranked fifth in the country in total assists, five behind Xavier guard Paul Scruggs.
VCU’s next matchup will be on the road at 5 p.m. Wednesday against Penn State. Penn State opened its season on Saturday with an 86-65 home win against Virginia Military Institute. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives VCU a 24.4% chance of winning.
*featured image via vcuathletics.com/Dave Eggen*