Vols Basketball vs Auburn
Tennessee's Santiago Vescovi (25) attempting to block a shot by Auburn's Samir Doughty at Thompson Boling Arena on Saturday, March 7, 2020.

Tennessee’s last week of the regular season saw the Vols face its toughest competition of the season. The Vols went on the road pulling off a miraculous comeback from behind victory at No. 6 Kentucky before falling at home to No. 17 Auburn.

Here’s how the Vols graded out.

Backcourt

Josiah Jordan-James played his best game of his freshman season at Kentucky, finding most of his production in Tennessee’s second half comeback. James was the best player on the court in the second half at Rupp Arena where he scored all of his career high 16 points.

James showed his versatility against the Wildcats totaling seven rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block.

The freshman’s strong game was crucial for Tennessee’s back court as Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans shut down Santiago Vescovi, holding him to four points and two assists.

Jordan Bowden wasn’t spectacular in Lexington, but the senior did a lot of things well in Tennessee’s 17-point comeback win. Bowden scored 11 points, including a crucial 4 of 5 at the free throw line while grabbing four rebounds and dishing out five assists.

Bowden was one of the few Vols to play well in Saturday’s loss to Auburn. The Knoxville native scored 17 points and recorded four rebounds and assists in his senior day performance. Bowden’s only downfall against the Tigers were his four turnovers.

Consistency hasn’t been James’s strength during his first season in Knoxville and that continued Saturday when the former 5-star couldn’t recreate his performance against Kentucky. James shot just 1 of 6 from the field while turning it over four times and just recording one assist.

Vescovi gave the Vols more in their return home, hitting three triples, two of which helped spark a second half push. The Uruguay native finished with 13 points and two assists while turning it over just once.

Grade: B

Frontcourt

John Fulkerson was brilliant in Lexington turning in an all-time great Tennessee performance. Fulkerson turned in a career high 27 points while grabbing six rebounds. Kentucky’s front line had no answers for the Kingsport native as he outscored all four of the Wildcat’s big men combined.

Yves Pons played perhaps his best game since the Vols’ Jan. 25 loss at Kansas. Pons was red hot hitting all of his 3-point attempts while hitting a plethora of midrange jumpers, including one late in the game that gave Tennessee a two-possession lead.

Pons finished the game with 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting while adding five rebounds and a block. Pons only shortcoming in Lexington was his team high four turnovers.

The France native struggled in Saturday’s matchup with the Tigers, shooting just 2 of 9 and scoring only five points. Pons grabbed six rebounds and blocked two shots in the loss.

Fulkerson was Tennessee’s best player against Auburn, though he couldn’t recreate his phenomenal performance verse Kentucky. Fulkerson scored a team-high 19 points against the Tigers while grabbing seven rebounds.

Grade: A

Offense

Tennessee’s offense had one of its best nights of the year in Lexington scoring 80 plus points for just the third time this season.

The Vols used a second half offensive explosion against the Wildcats, totaling 50 second half points. Tennessee’s most points in a half this season. The Vols shot 50% from the field in the second half against the Wildcats and 4 of 8 from 3-point range while grabbing huge offensive rebounds down the stretch.

In total, The Vols shot 53% from the field and 44% from 3-point range. Tennessee didn’t totally eliminate its turnover problems but eliminated them to 15 turnovers.

Tennessee’s offense didn’t repeat its success against Auburn, shooting poorly and scoring only 63 points.

The Vols shot just 33% from the field and 36% from 3-point range. Tennessee did shoot 79% from the 3-point range while scoring 19 points at the charity stripe.

Grade: B+

Defense

Tennessee’s defense faltered for three of the of the four halves on the week. Kentucky scored 42 first half points against the Vols turning UT turnovers into baskets while shooting 55% from the field and a stellar 80% from 3-point range.

After struggling to stay in front of Kentucky’s guards for the first three halves against the Wildcats this season, Tennessee flipped the switch in the second half in Lexington. Tennessee held Kentucky to just 33% shooting from the field and 25% from 3-point range while scoring just 31 points.

Tennessee got crucial stops when they needed them late against Kentucky, including forcing some pivotal turnovers allowing them to get out in transition.

The Big Orange’s defense looked more like the first half of Kentucky when Auburn came to Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday.

The Tigers scorched the Vols for 85 points on 50% shooting from the field and 14 of 32 from 3-point range.

Tennessee had no answers for Auburn’s high ball screen action. The Tigers feasted on Tennessee switching high ball screens. Auburn also gave the Vols problems on the glass where they grabbed 14 offensive boards.

Grade: C+

Bench

Tennessee’s never-ending quest to find bench production was a mixed bag on the week. Redshirt-junior guard Jalen Johnson gave Tennessee contributions in both contests.

Johnson scored eight points in 17 minutes against Kentucky hitting two crucial threes to keep the Vols in it in the first half and having a transition slam in the second half.

Johnson repeated some of his success in Saturday’s matchup, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers in 23 minutes.

Tennessee wasn’t able to get productive, or many, minutes from its bench post players on the week.

Uros Plavsic and Olivier Nkamhoua combined for just five minutes on the week, turning it over twice and recording no other stats.

Grade: B-

Coaching

Tuesday’s win at Kentucky was as surprising as any for Tennessee during the Rick Barnes era. Barnes did a great job of having his team believing it could win even when things looked dire in Rupp.

Barnes plan to keep feeding Fulkerson until Kentucky proved it could stop him was successful as Barnes success over the Wildcats continued. With the win, Barnes improved to 7-5 against the Vols’ northern rival since arriving in Knoxville.

Barnes’ lack of success against Auburn and former Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl continued in the Vols’ weekend matchup against the Tigers.

Auburn was beating Tennessee consistently offensively when the Vols switched ball screens, but Tennessee never adapted changing its strategy. A lot of the failure is on execution, like almost anything is, but Barnes not straying at all from switching was a bad decision.

Grade: A-

Overall

Tennessee had two of its hardest games of the season on the same week and the Vols found a way to split the matchups.

After Tennessee pulled the upset in Lexington and gave its NCAA Tournament chances life, it was disappointing for the Big Orange that they couldn’t follow it up with a win to really make things interesting, but all in all it was a good week for the Vols. It is anytime Tennessee finds a way to win in Rupp Arena. After all, they’ve only done it six times.

Grade: B+

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