Tennessee swingman Josiah-Jordan James might return on Saturday night when the No. 11 Volunteers host South Carolina in a Southeastern Conference game in Knoxville.
His return can’t come soon enough for the slumping Volunteers.
Tuesday night’s 68-63 defeat at No. 25 Texas A&M was their fifth in seven games, knocking them out of contention for the SEC regular season title. Tennessee (20-8, 9-6 SEC) needs a strong finish to stay in the top four and earn a coveted double bye for the conference tournament.
The return of the 6-6 James, who has played in just 16 games because of knee and ankle injuries, will give the team experience, toughness and more versatility. He’s averaging 9.5 points and a team-high 5.3 rebounds per game.
“Hopefully, barring any setbacks, I’ll be out there Saturday,” James said. “Looking forward to it.”
The Volunteers’ biggest problem lately has been a lack of offense. They rank 280th in Division I in field goal percentage at 42.7 and 281st in 3-point percentage at 32.1, putting more pressure on them on the defensive end.
And lately, Tennessee hasn’t even gotten the job done at that end. In the loss to Texas A&M, it fouled enough to put the Aggies at the line 34 times. Texas A&M made 28 for an 18-point advantage at the stripe that decided the game.
Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Zeigler each scored 14 points for the Volunteers and Olivier Nkamhoua added 13. However, Tennessee made just 9 of 31 3-pointers and finished the game at 40 percent from the field.
It marked the fifth time in seven games that the Volunteers had connected on 40 percent or fewer of their field goal tries.
“We’re going to find a way,” said coach Rick Barnes. “I’ve seen a lot of things in my career. I’ve seen teams that struggle like we have here. We’ve got some guys, some guys that we’ve been playing with, they have great character.”
Meanwhile, South Carolina (10-18, 3-12) has endured a rocky season under first-year coach Lamont Paris, although it nearly pulled a huge upset Wednesday night at home against No. 2 Alabama. But the Gamecocks couldn’t get a stop at the end of regulation and fell 78-76 in overtime.
South Carolina owned a 68-66 edge with 14.3 seconds left after Jacobi Wright canned a mid-range jumper, but Brandon Miller’s layup with 4.1 seconds remaining forced the extra session. Miller then capped a 41-point performance with a game-winning layup with 0.9 seconds on the clock in OT.
“We did enough good things to win the basketball game,” Paris said. “I do know that … I was proud. I’m really proud. I’m proud of what they did. Man, that was tough.”
Gregory “GG” Jackson Jr. scored 19 points, while Wright and Meechie Johnson each added 18. Jackson is the team’s leading scorer with 15.5 points per game and Johnson chips in 13.0, although neither has cracked the 40 percent mark from the field.
Tennessee is aiming for a season sweep of the Gamecocks after routing them 85-42 on Jan. 7 in Columbia, S.C. Nkamhoua had 21 points and matched his season high of 10 rebounds.
–Field Level Media