THOMPSON-BOLING ARENA— With less than 45 seconds remaining in the Volunteers’ crucial match-up against the Florida Gators, the crowd gathered to watch the game at Thompson-Boling Arena began a chant: “Fulky, Fulky, Fulky.”
The chant was extremely representative of how the game unfolded, Fulkerson nailed his first-ever 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to bring life into Thompson-Boling Arena and then had a put-back slam that gave the Volunteers a 4-point cushion during the climax of the Gators’ push.
Fulkerson, who went for 22-points, led the team in scoring along with Josiah-Jordan James, who scored 12-points, and Santiago Vescovi, who went for 11-points. Jordan Bowden, 10, and Yves Pons, 8, also impacted the scoreboard, but the Vols bench didn’t provide any of Tennessee’s 63-points in the match-up.
For a brief period of time, it appeared as if this game could be a repeat of last week’s loss at the hands of the Auburn Tigers — who overcame a 17-point deficit to stun the Volunteers on the road. However, John Fulkerson was able to slam the door with the 3-pointer at the shot clock’s buzzer, in addition to the slam which extended the Vols’ lead to 4. Tennessee showed great resiliency and incredible determination by not crumbling and collapsing as they did in Auburn, they didn’t repeat their past mistakes.
During the first half, Tennessee completely dominated the Gators, as they went into the locker room with a 32-17 lead. The Vols’ defense was completely suffocating, and with Kerry Blackshear Jr. in foul trouble, there was no option for the Gators in the paint.
When the Vols headed to the locker room, everyone knew that the Gators would likely make a run and in order to prevent a repeat of last Saturday, Tennessee had a step up and slam the door shut. The Gators went for 41 points in the 2nd half, and for a moment, everyone in Thompson-Boling Arena shared the same concern: “Is it happening again?” But when the time came for Tennessee to put Florida away, John Fulkerson was able to finish them off.
Tennessee’s final two games of the season will be against the Kentucky Wildcats, in Rupp Arena, on Tuesday, and then at home against their former head coach Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers on Saturday. The Volunteers will then turn their attention to Nashville for the annual SEC Tournament, where they will have an opportunity to shock the world and earn an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament if they are able to come out on top.
Can the Volunteers stun the College Basketball world and get into the NCAA Tournament, or will this rebuilding year result in a trip to the National Invite Tournament — buckle up, because it’s going to be a very interesting finish to Rick Barnes’ 5th season on Rocky Top.