A month ago, Tennessee had the makings of a Southeastern Conference champion. The SEC coaches chose the Volunteers as the league favorites, they had started the season 7-0 and had won 10 of their first 11 games.
But since Jan. 19, the Volunteers are 4-4 and appear to have lost track of the defensive presence that had been a hallmark of their success earlier in the season.
Now in 19th place and trying to avoid consecutive losses for the second time in a month, they hope to use Wednesday night’s home game in Knoxville against South Carolina’s fight to turn things around and build momentum in recent weeks of the season. The game was delayed one day due to COVID-19 protocols within the Volunteer program, the SEC announced Monday.
Tennessee (14-5, 7-5 in SEC) had allowed an average of 52.7 points during those first seven games, but has given up 66.3 against SEC teams. The Volunteers allowed their most points of the season in an 89-81 home win over Georgia on February 10, and then fell 78-65 at LSU on Saturday.
“I would say the inconsistency comes from our older players, and that’s what’s disappointing,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “If you are not nervous and do not understand that all possessions are important, you will not get consistency.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re playing offense or defense.”
Senior forward John Fulkerson was a candidate for the SEC’s Player of the Year while averaging 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in the first 12 games, but averaging 5.4 and 5.1 rebounds in the last seven and was out of the starting lineup at LSU.
His senior partner, Victor Bailey Jr., averaged 13.4 points on 48.3 percent shooting in the first nine games, but in the last 10 he has averaged just 6.2 points and made 27.6 percent of his shots (18 of 65 ).
It has been rookie Jaden Springer (12.2 points per game) who has been trying to lead the Vols lately, averaging 24.7 points in the last three games.
Against South Carolina last season, Fulkerson had 40 points and 19 rebounds as the teams split the pair of games. The Gamecocks have lost three straight games at Knoxville.
Since achieving an astonishing 72-66 victory at then-No. 22 in Florida on Feb.3, South Carolina (5-9, 3-7 in the SEC) has shot 38.9 percent (25 percent). percent from 3-point range) and allowed an average of 79.0 points during a three-game losing streak.
South Carolina leading scorer AJ Lawson (17.9 points per game) scored 22 in Saturday’s 81-74 home loss to Mississippi. While the Gamecocks forced 20 turnovers, they also committed 19 of their own and allowed Ole Miss to make half of her 44 shot attempts.
“I feel like we have to compete,” Lawson said. “I feel like we’ve given up a lot of plays, just from effort. To get a rebound, a fumble. Effort, offensively and defensively. And then just make plays.”
Lawson totaled 43 points in the last two games, but in four career games against Tennessee he has scored just 31 on 10-of-36 shooting.
–Field level media
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.