Fulkerson double-double fuels Vols to win over #6 Arizona

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Athletics) – On a night when he matched the program record for games played, super senior John Fulkerson posted a double-double to lead 19th-ranked Tennessee to a 77-73 victory against No. 6 Arizona in front of a raucous crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday.

The Kingsport, Tennessee, native scored a season-high 24 points and grabbed 10 boards while adding two assists in 30 minutes of action. Fulkerson, who made his 142nd appearance for the Vols, tied Wayne Chism for the most games played in program history.

While not officially a triple-double, Fulkerson also drew 13 fouls as the Wildcats (11-1) struggled to guard him all game long. He made Arizona pay at the line, knocking down eight of his 11 free throws.

In a matchup between one of the nation’s top offenses and UT’s elite defense, the programs battled the entire 40 minutes of the game. Tennessee (9-2) entered the contest as the No. 2 team in the country in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, while Arizona’s 91.0 points per game led the nation.

The Vols’ stifling defense held the Wildcats, who entered the game at No. 1 in the NET rankings, to a season-low 73 points and kept them from ever taking the lead during the contest. UT forced 17 turnovers in the game behind eight steals and five blocks.

Santiago Vescovi scored 12 of his 15 points during the second half to help spark the Volunteer offense. He knocked down three 3-pointers and added five boards, one assist and one steal. Josiah-Jordan James posted an all-around performance with 12 points, five rebounds, two blocks, two steals and one assist.

Justin Powell rounded out the double-digit scorers for the Big Orange with 11 points. He knocked down three free throws with 4:08 left in the game to push Tennessee’s lead to 66-62 and then iced the game with a free throw in the final seconds to make it a two-possession game.

Kennedy Chandler finished the game with eight points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals in a team-high 34 minutes of action.

After shooting just 28 percent from the field in the first half, Arizona came out on fire to begin the second frame. At the 15:45 mark, the Wildcats had nearly matched their scoring from the first half with 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting and four 3-pointers, cutting UT’s 13-point halftime lead to just four points.

The teams battled back and forth throughout the half, but the Wildcats continued clawing their way back into the game. A 14-2 swing by Arizona tied the game for the first time since the opening basket at 62-62 with 5:06 remaining.

With the momentum of the game on the line, Tennessee bent but never broke as the Vols weathered Arizona’s 58-percent shooting and seven threes during the second half. UT iced the game with 11 free throws made in the final five minutes, but Fulkerson was the difference-maker in the outcome, scoring seven of his 15 second-half points during that stretch to lead the Vols to the victory and hand the Wildcats their first loss of the season.

Tennessee opened the game scorching hot on both ends of the floor, shooting 8-of-12 from the field to jump out to an 18-5 lead with 13:56 left in the first half. Six different Vols scored during the stretch. A suffocating defensive effort by UT kept the Wildcats from gaining any momentum early on, as the Volunteers forced nine turnovers and held Arizona to 2-of-7 shooting during the first nine minutes of the game.

After Tennessee pulled ahead with a 26-11 advantage, Arizona rattled off a 10-0 run to cut the Volunteer lead to five with 1:40 left in the half. The Big Orange responded with a quick run of its own in the final minute to take a 34-21 lead into halftime.

The swing in momentum began when Fulkerson converted an and-one followed by a Vescovi 3-pointer. After a defensive rebound with eight seconds left, Chandler sprinted the floor while weaving his way around Wildcat defenders to earn a layup before time expired. Fulkerson led the Vols with nine points and four boards in the first stanza.

For the game, Tennessee shot 39 percent from the field and 67 percent from the charity stripe. UT knocked down seven threes and won the rebounding battle, 40-38.

UP NEXT: Tennessee opens SEC play with a road matchup against Alabama on Wednesday, Dec. 29, at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

VOLS ADD A TOP-10 WIN: With Wednesday’s win, Tennessee recorded its sixth win over a top-10 team during the Rick Barnes era, and first since a win at No. 6 Kentucky on March 3, 2020.

FULKERSON TIES GAMES PLAYED RECORD: Making his 142nd appearance as a Vol on Wednesday, super senior forward John Fulkerson tied Wayne Chism’s (2006-10) program record for career games played.

SHUTTING DOWN THE BIGS: Arizona’s roster features three players who are 6-foot, 11-inches or taller. The trio has been a major factor in the Wildcats’ success this season, averaging 36.5 points, 19.1 rebounds and 5.8 blocks. That accounted for 40 percent of their offense, 43 percent of their rebounding and 82 percent of their blocks. The Vols held the trio to a combined 12 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks on the night.

UT BIGS BY COMPARISON: Tennessee’s post duo of John Fulkerson and Olivier Nkamhoua made their presence felt all game long. In comparison to Arizona’s bigs, Fulkerson and Nkamhoua combined for 26 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks. Fulky alone outscored Arizona’s big three by 12 points and nearly matched them in rebounds. Nkamhoua’s three blocks matched the Wildcats, which entered the contest ranked fourth nationally in blocks per game.

STELLAR START ON THE DEFENSIVE END: Tennessee held Arizona to just 21 first-half points on 7-for-25 (.280) shooting. The Wildcats’ previous low for points in a first half this season was 37. The Vols also forced Arizona to commit 12 first-half turnovers, just below the per game average of 12.5. For the game, UT held the Wildcats to 73 points, which was their lowest total of the season and 18 points below their yearly average.

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