Junior point guard Melvin Goins, also suspended from Jan. 1-16, did not play at Alabama in his first game back, played just four minutes at Georgia in his second game back and did not play last night vs. Vanderbilt. He could get some meaningful minutes Sunday against Florida, however. That's because Josh Bone, who assumed Goins' backup role during his absence, has been very erratic.
"Josh Bone had played well for a couple of games in his (Goins') stead," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "He played really well against Ole Miss ... I mean REALLY well ... made big shots and played great defense.
Bone was an unsung hero in the Vols' 71-69 overtime defeat of the Rebels on Jan. 16, hitting 3 of 7 shots from 3 on his way to a 9-point, 3-rebound, 3-steal performance.
Since then, however, Bone has produced zero points, 1 rebound, 1 assist and 1 steal vs. Alabama, Georgia and Vandy combined.
"He has not played well the last three games," Pearl conceded following Wednesday's 85-76 loss to the Commodores. "He didn't play well at Alabama or Georgia, and didn't do anything tonight."
Goins has had modest success to date. The 5-11, 195-pound junior college transfer is averaging 5.8 points and 2.0 rebounds per game, with 27 assists, 21 turnovers and 15 steals. He's shooting 42.6 percent from the field and 26.3 from 3.
Goins fell from fan favor due to his role in the Jan. 1 incident. Conversely, Bone is a Nashville native and a walk-on whose approval rating soared due to his solid play in the wake of the suspensions. If the Vols are a better team with him on the bench, however, Pearl has to put production ahead of popularity and go with Goins over Bone.
"My big thing is, just because he doesn't play well once or twice, I don't want my players looking over their shoulder," the coach said. "But he (Bone) has not played well a third game in a row, so there's a chance there could be some adjustments made (in the rotation)."
The fact is, Goins is the only true point guard on the Vol roster. Starter Bobby Maze is a combo guard who is playing the point by necessity. The same holds true for Bone, who struggled to break down the Vandy defense Wednesday night.
As Pearl put it: "We had certain lineups out there that could not move the ball at times."