Your Tennessee Volunteers laid a beat down on Mississippi Tuesday night, defeating the Rebels 73-48. Here are three things.
LUCKY CHARMED KINDA LIFE
Mr. Perfect, aka The 6 Million Dollar Man, aka The Incredible Fulk, aka your friendly, neighborhood Fulkerson-man, aka the pride of Kingsport, TN John Fulkerson set a new career-high with 18 points against Ole Miss. He added 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the year and threw in three steals and two assists for good measure. He hit seven of his eight shot attempts and four of his five free-throw attempts.
His secret? Lucky Charms with WHOLE MILK.
John Fulkerson had 16 points in the first half (17 was his career high before tonight) after the game he said he ate @LuckyCharms before hand and he thinks they gave him the luck...he also really hates skim milk. #Vols pic.twitter.com/BEZVo6YSx7— Jordan Crammer (@JordanCrammer) January 22, 2020
So, Fulkerson’s pre-game meal was a small bowl of Lucky Charms, and then he scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half.
Science? Probably. But we’re not done.
“I like whole milk,” Fulkerson explained a little further.
Somebody get Mayfield on the phone because we have a new spokesperson — it’s time for Fulkerson to bring back the ‘stache and a new run of the “Got Milk?” ads.
“I won’t judge you if you like skim milk,” he added. “But you might as well drink water...”
That’s fine, John. I’ll judge these people for you. This is a whole milk blog, and it’s whole milk for whole people around here. Skim milk is trash. Why don’t you just go skim some water off the top of a puddle and drink that instead.
OK — sorry. We got a bit off track there. But I just loved this exchange between Fulkerson and the reporters. I lost it when he said, “I like whole milk.” It just seemed so genuine and authentic and pure.
Fulky has really endeared himself to Tennessee fans during his time in Knoxville. He’s a local guy — we southerners love other people who talk like us — and there’s never been a game when you questioned if Fulkerson really gave his all for Tennessee.
Sometimes, he catches some flak for looking like he should be playing in a church league instead of at a major college basketball program, and he’s air-balled layups and thrown himself into the crowd plenty of times. His brand of basketball, well, it’s not “aesthetically pleasing,” but it is effective.
He’s third in the SEC in field goal percentage, sitting at 66.4 percent, and he’s averaging 16 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block per 40 minutes. He just gets it done.
Before the season, fans expected this to be Jordan Bowden’s year. He was next in line, set to carry the torch, and the team, for his last season in Knoxville. Scotty Hopson, Robert Hubbs, Kevin Punter — that’s the kind of senior season we expected from Bowden. But instead, quietly, this has become Fulkerson’s team.
HERE’S SOME BENCH PRESS
Tennessee isn’t a very deep team this year. The additions of Santiago Vescovi and Uros Plavsic have helped, but the Vols are still top heavy.
Yves Pons, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James average more than 30 minutes per game with Fulkerson and Vescovi both clearing the 25 minute per-game mark. Those five guys play the bulk of the minutes and provide most of Tennessee’s scoring pop.
But against Mississippi, the Vols got some welcomed production off the bench. UT played all 12 available players, and the bench tied its season high with 24 points.
Freshman Olivier Nkamhoua had his best game of the season thus far with 10 points, four rebounds, one assist and two blocks in 19 minutes while shooting 3-3 from the field and 4-4 from the free-throw line. Jalen Johnson continued his improved play with 8 points and four rebounds in 21 minutes. He’s scored points in six of the last seven games after starting the year with zero points in seven of the first 11 games.
Collectively, the bench-Vols hit eight of their 11 shots, all six of their free throws and had only two turnovers and four fouls.
VOLS’ DEFENSE PUT THE MISS IN OLE MISS
Mississippi is nearly a one-man band: Breein Tyree plays lead guitar, bass, the drums and provides the lead vocals. Some nights, that’s okay. Ole Miss rode Tyree through its non-conference schedule to a 7-4 record with Tyree averaging 16 points in 32-plus minutes per game. Since SEC play started, Tyree’s minutes are up (37) and his scoring average is up (26.8), but the Rebels are 0-4.
When there’s one guy who is really, really good on a team with other guys who aren’t really, really good, the line between helping the team and hurting the team for the good guy is so thin its nearly invisible. Hell, it might be transparent.
A bad shot for one player might not be a bad shot for another player. And if the lesser players can’t score, then how bad is that bad shot, really? Does Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis want Tyree taking contested 3s more than he wants other guys taking ‘better’ shots?
As you can see, it can get messy fast.
Either way, Tennessee contained Tyree — he had 18 points in 37 minutes — and nobody else on the Ole Miss roster had enough juice to keep the Rebels in the game. Only one person shot 50 percent or better from the field for Mississippi, and the Rebels collectively hit a meager 30 percent of their total shots.
Since allowing 78 points in a loss to LSU, the Vols are allowing just a skosh more than 57 points per game and are holding opponents to 22 percent shooting from deep and 33 percent overall. That’s NCAA Tournament caliber defense. Now let’s see if it holds up for the rest of Tennessee’s back-loaded schedule.