John Fulkerson- Florida at Tennessee

Mar 7, 2021; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers forward John Fulkerson (10) goes to the basket against the Florida Gators during the first half at Thompson-Boling Arena. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee was able to get back to the basics in its 65-54 win over Florida on Sunday. With the win, Tennessee secured the fourth seed in the SEC tournament and the last remaining double-bye. 

Here’s how the Vols graded out. 

Backcourt

Tennessee had a good backcourt performance against Florida. Not great but good, which is a step in the right direction for a team that has struggled to find consistency as of late. What’s important is that Tennessee’s backcourt got back to making winning plays against the Gators.

Keon Johnson was the star of the show as he had 14 points on 63% shooting from the field. He also had three rebounds, two assists and two steals. 

Johnson played solid defense and when he got the ball on offense he attacked the basket and made life tough for whoever was guarding him. 

Jaden Springer and Santiago Vescovi both had some bright spots in the game but struggled to find consistency. 

Springer had just four points on 28% shooting from the field. He also had two rebounds and three assists. Springer had an important steal late in the game where he jumped a passing lane and stole the ball from Colin Castleton. Plays like that made Springer so dangerous on both ends of the court early in the season. 

Vescovi only had six points on 33% shooting from the field. He also had four rebounds and two assists. Vescovi also made a game-changing play when he was able to secure the ball in a pile of Florida players and call a timeout. 

Grade: B

Frontcourt

On seniors day, Fulkerson and Pons stepped up to the plate and helped lead the Vols to victory. 

Fulkerson has been struggling all year but returned to the form of last year against Florida. 

Fulkerson had 14 points on 60% shooting from the field along with seven rebounds and four assists. He brought hustle every time he was on the court and was tenacious when he took the ball to the basket which he hasn’t been for most of the year. 

Pons only scored five points but dominated on the boards with eight rebounds and sparked the Tennessee rebounding dominance in the second half. 

Grade: A

Offense

Offense will always be something that Tennessee struggles with this season but against Florida, they did enough of the right things to come out victorious. 

Tennessee was able to shoot 43.5% from the field for the game which is a good percentage for a team that struggles in the half-court as much as UT does. 

Three Vols scored in double figures as Fulkerson, Johnson and Victor Bailey all finished the game with 14 points. 

Two major keys to success for Tennessee were its ability to get to the basket. Tennessee scored 44 of its 65 points in the paint along with its 18 offensive rebounds. Tennessee’s rebounding performance against Florida in the second half was its best of the season. 

One downside was Tennessee’s inability to shoot the three-pointer. Tennessee shot just 14% from behind the three-point line for the game with Bailey making two of Tennessee’s three three-pointers. 

Grade: B+

Defense 

Tennessee played a strong defensive game but the second half is when Tennessee looked like the dominant defensive presence they were early in the year. 

Florida scored just 21 points in the second half. Tennessee held them to just 31% shooting from the field and 0% shooting from behind the three-point line. 

Tennessee was able to force the Gators into 10 second-half turnovers. 

Rebounding was also great for Tennessee as it had 10 defensive rebounds in the second half. 

If Tennessee can continue the play it had in the second half the rest of the season it will be a team that no one wants to see in the NCAA tournament. 

Grade: A

Bench 

Tennessee got excellent production from its bench against the Gators. 

Bailey had 14 points on 45% shooting from the field. He gave Tennessee an offensive threat off the bench that could create their shot while also being able to spot up from three-point range. 

Josiah Jordan James was the other major contributor for Tennessee off of the bench. 

James had eight points on 37% shooting from the field but like Pons, James made his presence known in other ways. 

James led the team in rebounds with 10. He also had one assist, one block and a steal. James was able to play the stretch four position to perception in his time on the court and used his athleticism to create havoc on defense. 

Grade: B+

Coaching

Tennessee struggled to look like itself in recent weeks but it looks like the week off came at just the right time. 

Rick Barnes could give his guys some time off to rest mentally and physically. He also got extra time to go over film and work with his players on what they’ve been struggling with over the past few weeks. 

We may never know what exactly they worked on in that time but whatever happened, it seems like Barnes pushed the right buttons. 

Grade: B+ 

Overall

After a week away from the court to get right mentally and physically, Tennessee might have finally found its rhythm.

The game against Florida was not perfect by any means but compared to games over the past few weeks, especially the wins, this game seemed to finally be the step in the right direction that everyone has been waiting to see. 

If Tennessee can play as it did in the second half against Florida for the rest of the season, they'll be a team that no one wants to see in the SEC or NCAA tournament. 

Grade: B+

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