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Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee forward Olivier Nkamhoua dunks off an assist from Kennedy Chandler during the early stages of Wednesday night's 77-73 topping of previously undefeated Arizona.

John Fulkerson wasn't through making memories this past April when he elected to come back for a sixth basketball season at Tennessee.

He added a nice one Wednesday night inside Thompson-Boling Arena.

The 6-foot-9, 219-pound forward from Kingsport scored 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting, racked up 10 rebounds and drew a whopping 13 fouls to lead the No. 19 Volunteers to a 77-73 outlasting of No. 6 Arizona before an announced crowd of 20,408. The Wildcats entered the game with an 11-0 record and atop the NET rankings, and they also led the nation in scoring offense with 91.0 points per contest.

"I would love to see that Fulky every day," Fulkerson said. "You try to bring that every day, every practice and every game, and that's the standard that my coaches and my teammates have for me. The game of basketball isn't easy, and we put so much time, effort and energy into this game.

"To have nights like this make you want to work that much harder."

The Vols, who had eight days between games as a result of this past Saturday's COVID-19-related cancellation against Memphis, improved to 9-2.

Tennessee led by 15 points on two occasions during the first half, but that advantage had been erased when Bennedict Mathurin's two free throws with 2:58 left pulled Arizona into a 67-67 deadlock. That's when the 24-year-old Fulkerson was at his best, making a turnaround jumper and connecting on a pair of free throws to put the Vols back up 71-67.

With 56 seconds remaining and the Wildcats within 71-69, Vols freshman point guard Kennedy Chandler missed an out-of-control shot in the lane only to have Fulkerson there for the putback and a 73-69 lead.

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Fulkerson's 'triple-double' leads No. 19 Vols past No. 6 Arizona

"He knows that this is his last year," Vols coach Rick Barnes said. "We need him to do what he does, whether that's scoring or drawing fouls. If you take the 13 fouls he drew, that's a triple-double."

Said sophomore guard Justin Powell: "It was great to see Fulky do that. A guy like that is relentless, and tonight he knew where he wanted to go with his spots, and he knew he was playing well."

Fulkerson's 24 points were accompanied by 15 from Santiago Vescovi, while Josiah-Jordan James scored 12 and Powell 11. Mathurin tallied a game-high 28 for the Wildcats.

Within the game's first 80 seconds, Chandler had an assist on an Olivier Nkamhoua dunk and a steal and layup to stake the Vols to a 6-0 lead. A Powell 3-pointer less than three minutes in made it 9-0, and a 3-pointer by Zakai Zeigler at the 15:32 mark provided Tennessee a stunning 12-2 advantage.

Arizona first-year coach Tommy Lloyd was trying to wait until the first media timeout before regrouping but couldn't, as a James dunk and a Powell layup forced Lloyd to stop play with a 16-2 deficit as 14:52 remained before halftime.

"We were prepared from top to bottom," James said of the start. "We knew TBA was going to be rocking, and we just fed off the energy of our fans."

When asked where Wednesday's home environment ranked in his career, James quickly replied, "No. 1."

Tennessee led 34-21 at halftime. The Wildcats made just 7-of-28 first-half shots (25.0%), including 2-of-12 from 3-point range (16.7%), and they compiled only four assists against 12 turnovers.

A Kerr Kriisa 3-pointer at the 17:58 mark of the second half capped an 8-0 run out of the gate to pull Arizona within 34-29, but a James provided an answer with a 3-pointer 16 seconds later. The Wildcats got within 44-40 on a Dalen Terry dunk with 15:47 remaining, but another James 3-pointer a minute later gave the Vols a seven-point cushion.

"Our older guys, when we needed something, were the guys who did it," Barnes said.

The Vols are off this Christmas weekend before opening Southeastern Conference play next Wednesday night at Alabama.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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