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Tennessee Athletics photo / Despite 12 points and seven rebounds Saturday night from former Hamilton Heights standout Uros Plavsic, the Tennessee Volunteers dropped to 10-4 overall and 1-2 in Southeastern Conference play after Saturday night's 79-67 loss at LSU.

The Tennessee Volunteers remained in Monday's latest Associated Press men's basketball poll, checking in at No. 22.

A bigger question is whether Tennessee can remain in the Southeastern Conference race.

The Vols, who were picked to finish fourth in league play behind Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas, are 1-2 in SEC games following Saturday night's 79-67 loss at LSU and are fortunate they're not 0-3 given last Wednesday night's 66-60 overtime escape of visiting Ole Miss. Tennessee, which is 10-4 overall, looks to rebound Tuesday night by hosting South Carolina (6:30 on SEC Network) before a weekend trip to Kentucky.

"I think our guys are getting better," Vols coach Rick Barnes said Monday in a news conference. "We've got to get consistent, and there is no doubt about that. I do think the shooting woes can play into guys' heads, but they can't evaluate themselves on that."

Tennessee is shooting 32.1% from 3-point range this season, which ranks ninth in the SEC, but the Vols have yet to hit that clip in a league game. They are just 26.4% from long range in conference play.

The Vols are already two games back of league-leading Auburn but have a solid No. 11 standing in the NET rankings due to six games against "Quad 1" opponents and victories in such contests as Arizona and North Carolina. The four teams that have topped Tennessee to this point — Villanova, Texas Tech, Alabama and LSU — are all ranked in the latest AP poll.

"There is a standard that we have that we expect everybody to play up to," Barnes said. "Are we going to struggle? Everybody struggles. We can still win games when we struggle. A lot of the things that we wanted to see Saturday — some of it we got, and some of it we didn't.

"LSU is a good basketball team. Texas Tech is a good basketball team. Alabama is a good basketball team. Villanova is a good basketball team. We're not going to drop our standard at all."

South Carolina is also 10-4 overall and is 1-1 in league play, having lost last week to visiting Auburn before winning Saturday at Vanderbilt. The Vols have historically dominated the Gamecocks, owning a 48-28 series advantage with six wins in the last seven meetings, and Tennessee has won nine straight home games overall dating back to last season.

Tuesday represents Tennessee's fourth league game of this season, and perhaps it will be the first in which the Vols lead after regulation.

"We're all really confident in ourselves," freshman point guard Kennedy Chandler said. "We don't need to think too much. We just need to go out there and play and have fun."

 

Fulkerson follow

Barnes was critical of sixth-year senior forward John Fulkerson after the loss in Baton Rouge and spoke about that Monday.

Fulkerson, who missed the SEC opener at Alabama on Dec. 29 following a positive COVID test, has played only 35 out of a possible 85 minutes the past two games and has tallied just eight points.

"I will never say a thing to anybody else that I haven't already said to my team ever," Barnes said. "If anybody thinks I'm going to use the media to get a message to my players, then they are nuts. I'm going to be as honest and as transparent as I can be, because I do know that people love our basketball team. They want to know what's going on with it.

"John knows that we need him. We all appreciate what he's done, but I also know that if you're not feeling well and you want to fight through it, it can also have a reverse effect."

 

Odds and ends

Barnes and South Carolina counterpart Frank Martin first collided annually as Big 12 coaches — Barnes at Texas and Martin at Kansas State. Barnes holds a 10-8 edge in career meetings between the two. The Gamecocks average 13.5 offensive rebounds a game, which ranks 17th nationally. Tennessee ranks third nationally in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing 87.7 points per 100 possessions. The Vols along with LSU and Ole Miss have yet to allow 80 points in a game this season among SEC programs.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or423-757-6524.

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