TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)John Fulkerson wanted to make one thing clear to Alabama’s boisterous student section: He is getting a haircut.
First, Tennessee’s shaggy-headed forward helped give the Crimson Tide a trim.
Fulkerson scored a career-high 22 points, Jordan Bowden had 20 and the Volunteers rallied from a 15-point deficit to beat Alabama 69-68 on Tuesday night.
”They were chanting for me to get a hair cut,” he said. ”It’s ironic because four days ago I scheduled a haircut for tomorrow. I had to go and tell them that.”
The Volunteers (13-9, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) snapped a three-game losing streak and contained one of the nation’s top scoring teams, getting big plays in the final seconds from Yves Pons. They trailed by 39-24 late in the first half before working their way back into the game.
It was the biggest deficit Tennessee has overcome in a win since rallying from 16 points down in a 2017 victory over the Tide.
Pons blocked Jaylen Forbes’ potential tying shot with 5 seconds left and was fouled, making both free throws to put the game away. Kira Lewis Jr. hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer and scored 19 points for Alabama (12-10, 4-5), which has lost three straight.
That kept it from being the Tide’s lowest scoring game, but it was still 14 below the average of the nation’s fourth-highest scoring team. Tennessee and the league’s stingiest defense wound up with the edge.
”Defensively, it might have been the best we’ve done all year from start to finish of staying locked in on what we needed to do against a very explosive offensive team,” Vols coach Rick Barnes said.
Santiago Vescovi hit two free throws with 1:57 left to give the Vols a 67-63 lead over a suddenly short-handed Tide team. Alabama’s three big men – Alex Reese, Javian Davis and Galin Smith – all fouled out in the final five minutes.
Fulkerson made 8 of 9 shots for Tennessee coming off a six-point performance against Mississippi State. Bowden was 5-of-17 shooting but went to the line 11 times, missing only once.
Vescovi made just 2 of 15 shot but had eight points, eight rebounds and five assists. Pons scored 14 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.
John Petty Jr. had eight points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Tide. Jaden Shackelford scored 12.
Alabama cut it to two points on Petty’s dunk off a feed from Lewis with 40 seconds left. Tennessee couldn’t score at the other end.
Tide coach Nate Oats opted not to call a timeout to set up a final shot.
”I was hoping that with the matchup Kira had, maybe he could get to the free throw line,” Oats said.
Tennessee: Missed its first seven two-point attempts and started 1-of-9 shooting. Outrebounded Alabama 42-33 and made 23 of 32 free throws (72%).
Alabama: It was the second game without injured guard Herbert Jones (wrist surgery). Only shot eight free throws, making five. Hit 11 3-pointers but also committed 20 turnovers.
Vols freshman Josiah-Jordan James missed his second straight game with a groin injury. He had started all season. Beetle Bolden, Alabama’s only senior, returned after missing two games with an illness.
Tennessee’s Uros Plavsic was called for a technical foul late in the first half. After a foul by Javian Davis, Plavsic bumped him with his right arm after the play. Alabama’s Petty was whistled for a technical protesting a call in the second half.
”That’s all on me,” Petty said. ”I’m one of the leaders on the team and I’ve got to do a better job keeping my cool. I can’t put us in a spot like that.”
Tennessee hosts No. 15 Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.
Alabama visits Georgia on Saturday.
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This story was first published February 4, 2020. It was corrected Feb. 5 to show Yves Pons blocked a shot and made two free throws in the final seconds of Tennessee’s win over Alabama.