No. 18 Tennessee hopes to have one of its key contributors ready for his season debut.
Star John Fulkerson could be healthy enough to help the Volunteers (1-0) continue their success against visiting East Tennessee State (0-1) on Sunday in Knoxville.
Injuries and the coronavirus pandemic have the 6-foot-9, 24-year-old Fulkerson back for his sixth season at Tennessee. Fulkerson, a preseason All-SEC selection, averaged career highs of 13.7 points and 5.9 rebounds while starting all 31 games in 2019-20.
But Fulkerson, who has shot 56.7 percent from the field over 132 career games, sat out the Volunteers’ opening 90-62 victory over UT Martin earlier this week with a broken thumb.
However, it appears Fulkerson is in position to finally take the court this weekend.
“Starting with how much he can do and get done, we do not know which it will be. But he’s definitely day-to-day,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “How long does it take him to get back to where he was before he (got hurt)? I don’t know.”
Should Fulkerson get his chance to contribute on Sunday, it adds another potent option for the Vols, who made a program-record 17 3-pointers — on 40 attempts — and pulled down 23 offensive rebounds against UT Martin.
“John is so dynamic,” Tennessee teammate Victor Bailey Jr. said. “He’s been a marquee guy for the University of Tennessee for many years, and whenever you bring a guy like that back, he’s going to impact us in a positive manner.”
In that game, Santiago Vescovi and touted freshman Kennedy Chandler each scored 20 for Tennessee, while Auburn transfer Justin Powell had 13 as the Vols pulled away in the second half for the decisive victory.
Now, with Fulkerson possibly in tow, Tennessee aims for an 11th straight win over ETSU. However, four of the last six meetings were decided by nine or fewer points. This will be the first matchup between the schools since 2016.
It also will pit the Vols against their former assistant coach, Desmond Oliver. After spending the previous six seasons at Tennessee, Oliver made his head-coaching debut in ETSU’s 69-67 loss at Appalachian State on Friday.
“I’m excited for Des,” Barnes said. “(He) ended up with a terrific job in East Tennessee. …They have players coming back that had great success. There are certainly some things he will do that we do here, but he has also added some things he likes himself.”
David Sloan, who began his career at Kansas State and averaged 11.1 points for ETSU last season, had 15 points to lead four Buccaneers in double figures on Friday. Ledarrius Brewer, the team’s top returning scorer at 16.2 points per contest from 2020-21, scored 13 as ETSU made 10 3-pointers but could not hang on to a five-point halftime lead.
“It’s tough to walk out of here knowing that if you execute a little bit better, it’s a different game down the stretch,” Oliver said.
“We will get better. … But we’re going into a street fight (Sunday) with an experienced club. … We’ll see on Sunday if we can find a way to be productive.”
Two seasons removed from a 30-win season, ETSU has lost 30 consecutive games against Top 25 opponents since beating then-No. 10 Arizona during the 1992 NCAA Tournament.
–Field Level Media