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Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee senior forward John Fulkerson struggled to a 1-for-7 shooting performance during Saturday's 70-55 loss to Kentucky.

If Tennessee men's basketball coach Rick Barnes was granted one belated Christmas wish for his erratic 2020-21 team, he wouldn't take long to determine it.

"We need to get consistent scoring from inside," Barnes said Monday. "We need John Fulkerson and Yves Pons to really give us that, because there are going to be nights when you're not making threes. We've worked on posting our guards up, too, because you've got to have a presence in there some way, and it would help us a lot if those guys could give us what we expect and what we know that they're capable of giving us."

The two senior veterans of Tennessee's roster have undoubtedly struggled at times this season, particularly this month. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound Pons has averaged just 7.3 points in his last four games, missing the Feb. 10 win over Georgia due to knee soreness.

Asked Monday whether the knee has been a factor, Barnes said, "I think it's a problem, but he would never say it. He's just not one of those guys."

The 6-9, 215-pound Fulkerson has reached double figures once in six February games, scoring 19 points last Wednesday night against a reeling South Carolina team that was missing two starters. In Tennessee's two recent losses to LSU and Kentucky, Fulkerson was a combined 3-for-12 shooting.

Barnes was asked whether Fulkerson has some kind of ailment as well or if this is all mental.

"I wish I knew that answer," Barnes said. "We've spent a lot of time with Fulky, all of us, in trying to get him to do this or do that. He wants to do it, and I don't think there is any question that he is hurting more than anybody can imagine, because it means a lot to him.

"He has struggled, and it's tough to watch, because he has been such a big part of what we've done here."

Sophomore guard/forward Josiah-Jordan James has missed the past two games with a sprained wrist and hasn't been able to practice, according to Barnes, who added that the lack of James and his leadership was evident during Saturday's 70-55 loss to the Wildcats. Tennessee (15-6, 8-6 SEC) landed in the 25th and final spot Monday in the Associated Press poll and has a date Wednesday night in Nashville against a Vanderbilt program that has improved since the Vols routed the Commodores 81-61 inside Thompson-Boling Arena on Jan. 16.

The Vols have another road game Saturday against Auburn, but Tennessee associate athletic director Tom Satkowiak said Monday that he is expecting one more home contest to be added before the Southeastern Conference tournament. Tennessee was scheduled to host Florida when Georgia ventured to Knoxville, with the scheduling switch due to COVID-related issues facing the Gators.

 

Inbound issues

The Vols have been victimized off inbound plays during their last two losses at LSU and Kentucky, and it's on the list of items Barnes would like to fix.

"It's a lapse of attention to details," Barnes said. "Kentucky got a dunk Saturday, and we were yelling it from the bench. We knew exactly what they were doing.

"It goes back to when you're not playing well, I think your head is somewhere else."

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

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