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Rick Barnes would be ‘surprised’ if John Fulkerson can play against Alabama

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Florida vs Tennessee Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee beat the Florida Gators on Friday afternoon in Nashville, but they may have lost John Fulkerson in the process. Tennessee’s senior leader took two elbows to the head in the second half of the win, delivered by Florida’s Omar Payne.

Payne was ejected, and Fulkerson went to the locker room for further examination. Eventually, Fulkerson was ruled out by Tennessee for the remainder of the game.

The situation was ugly, and the two teams had to be separated after the incident took place. The focus now shifts to Fulkerson’s availability going forward, starting with a matchup against Alabama in the SEC semifinals tomorrow afternoon.

“I did not see it,” Rick Barnes said after the game. “I’d already looked the other way, turned the other way. I didn’t see it. Heard it wasn’t good at all, obviously. They did take him to the hospital just for observation. I think it was more for his eye than anything else. Tomorrow, I don’t know right now if we could say we can count on him. Again, we’ll wait and see. My gut feeling, he took two pretty good licks right there and I’d be surprised if he is available.”

Fulkerson finished with eight points on 3-4 shooting from the field in 19 minutes. Tennessee went small without Fulkerson on the floor, shifting Josiah-Jordan James down to the four and Yves Pons to the five. The game was in-hand at that point, with Tennessee managing a double-digit lead.

The Volunteers will take on No. 1 seed Alabama tomorrow — a situation that might actually reward playing some small ball. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET on ESPN.