Men's Basketball vs. Auburn

Josiah-Jordan James, No.30, driving offense in the first half of the Tennessee v Auburn game in Thompson Boling Arena on Saturday Feb. 26, 2022.

It was a tale of two halves in Tennessee’s 75-68 win over Georgia Tuesday evening.

The Bulldogs hung around with No. 13 Tennessee for far longer than its record would suggest it should have. The Vols, despite trailing by as much as six in the first half and entering halftime tied with what has been the worst team in the SEC this season, walked away from their penultimate game of the regular season with a tough-earned win on the road.

Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said prior to Tuesday to go ahead and throw out a team’s record when discussing intraconference matchups. Tennessee having to sweat out a win like it did against the Bulldogs  who entered Tuesday’s game at 6-23 on the season  affirms the team hadn’t taken Barnes’ warning to heart.

“This is like an NCAA (Tournament) basketball game where everyone thinks you’re supposed to win a game or games, whatever it may be,” Barnes said. “We were very impatient on the defensive end, we were jumping around, had happy feet.”

“Just really weren’t very disciplined on the defensive end. Offensively, we were able to get the ball in places where we wanted it, but I know we missed a dunk, I know we left 10-12 points at the rim where we just missed shots.”

The Bulldogs, despite losing 17 of their last 18 heading into their matchup with Tennessee, hung around with then No. 5 ranked Auburn, which required a last-second 3-pointer to escape Stegeman Coliseum with a victory, 74-72.

And despite limping to the finish line against the Bulldogs, Tennessee has proved itself to take care of business in games which they are heavy favorites. All seven of the Vols’ losses on the schedule thus far have been Quadrant 1 opportunities, and all seven of those losses have come on the road or on a neutral court.

“It was great to win on the road because for us we try to protect our home court,” super-senior John Fulkerson said. “Winning on the road is always great, always a good thing to win on the road.”

Fulkerson played a crucial role in the Vols’ win over the Bulldogs. His 12-point, three rebound performance was highlighted by back-to-back baskets alongside Josiah-Jordan James’ red-hot second half.

And it was James’ play in the second half that would prove invaluable to Tennessee’s eventual push towards the finish. The junior guard scored 14 of his career-high 23 points on the evening in the final 20 minutes, including a run of eight straight points to give Tennessee a much-needed cushion after the under 16 timeout. After trailing by as much as six in the first half, the Vols wouldn’t look back on their way to their first win in Athens since 2011.

“Josiah, not only did he score the ball well but he rebounded the ball well, had a couple blocks,” Barnes said. “His minutes at that point in time was the reason we were able to stretch it out.”

James’ efficient 8-of-12 outing was as balanced as it could be. He made 3-of-7 3-pointers, hit a few midrange pullups and finished well at the rim when others around him struggled.

Barnes has been adamant of his abilities to shoot the ball all season, and those claims have started to show credence the past couple of weeks. James was 5-5 inside the arc against the Bulldogs Tuesday night.

“I’m not going to shoot 100% from behind the line,” James said. “I’m just trying to be a three-level scorer. I feel like sometimes I settle too much staying behind the line shooting 3-point shots. My teammates and coaches have made it a point of emphasis just to be in attack mode and not just settle."

“I feel like if I shoot a bunch of 3’s that plays to the defense’s advantage, so I just try to get downhill, get to my pullup that I’ve been working on and try to get easy shots at the rim as well.”

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