KNOXVILLE – Fitting that Tennessee’s basketball tussle with South Carolina – emphasis on tussle – came down to a foul call.
And it was appropriate that Vols forward John Fulkerson found himself in the middle of Saturday’s decisive action.
“You just try to put yourself in a winning position to make a play,” he said.
In this case, he stationed himself under the basket and braced himself for the arrival of South Carolina’s A.J. Lawson. Fulkerson absorbed the contact from the sophomore guard’s dribble drive, hitting the floor and drawing a charging foul.
Fulkerson’s fall served as UT’s final stand for a 56-55 SEC victory before a crowd of 19,603 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“That’s one where you give their guy credit (more) than our guy fault,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said.
Fulkerson also was credited with a team-high 15 points and 10 rebounds. In a game featuring 49 combined fouls and 50 free throw attempts, he was five-for-five from the line as part of UT’s 22-for-28 overall accuracy.
Tennessee (10-5, 2-1 SEC) outscored South Carolina by nine points (22-13) at the free throw line. The Gamecocks (8-7, 0-2) were 13 for 22.
In referencing Fulkerson’s statistics, UT coach Rick Barnes said, “In some ways, we need more.”
On this day, the Vols got more from the 6-foot-9 redshirt junior in terms of timely effort. Fulkerson’s hustle created Tennessee’s lone basket of the final seven minutes. After making a bounce pass to cutting teammate Jordan Bowden, Fulkerson followed the play and converted Bowden’s missed layup into a dunk.
Fulkerson later scrambled for the offensive rebound of Bowden’s missed jumper. He dove to the court and out of bounds with a South Carolina player, maintaining possession for UT via an official’s call with 10.4 seconds left.
“When it comes down to it, those are game-winning plays,” freshman forward Drew Pember said. “Coach talks about them all the time.
“As a young guy, you want follow the older guys and what they do. Fulky is setting a really good example.”
Afterward, Barnes talked about effort as part of a winning formula. The Vols’ determination saved them from 25.9 percent shooting from the floor (14 for 54) and 19 turnovers. He also mentioned the fans and the role their full-throated encouragement played down the stretch regarding UT’s play.
“I can’t thank our fans enough,” he said. “We’ve got the best in the country and we’re going to need them all year.”
He emphasized to the players how much the fans appreciate hard work. They like baskets as well and Tennessee will more of them on Wednesday at Georgia. The Bulldogs average 80 points per game.
Against South Carolina, starters Jordan Bowden and Yves Pons combined for 10 points. Pember imagined the fans probably not appreciating Bowden’s 1-for-17 shooting from the floor.
Pember’s advice to his teammate: Keep shooting.
He believes that’s still a winning play right along with effort.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org