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Barnes: John Fulkerson still ‘day to day’

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

John Fulkerson’s status for the NCAA Tournament is still unknown as of Wednesday. Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes met with the media ahead of his team’s matchup with Oregon State on Friday, but didn’t offer much of an update on Fulkerson.

“John is day-by-day and that’s where we are with that,” Barnes said directly.

Fulkerson took two elbows to the face last Friday from Florida forward Omar Payne, who has since apologized. Fulkerson spent time in a Nashville hospital, before travelling back to Knoxville to see a specialist. He could be seen on the sidelines on Saturday with a nasty looking black eye.

“We’re his brothers and he’s our brother,” Tennessee guard Josiah-Jordan James said of Fulkerson. “He’s our leader. We have his back. We don’t want him to do anything that he’s not capable of. It’s a lot bigger than basketball. His health is first and foremost. We just want him to get healthy and back to being John Fulkerson. We kind of joke with him about the black eye a little bit. I think it’s a good look for him. I joke with him about it and keep him in good spirits because whether he plays in the game or doesn’t play, it really doesn’t matter. His health is first and foremost. Just seeing him smile and being the Fulky that we know is our biggest concern.”

The senior forward from Kingsport has struggled through much of the season, but appeared to be coming out of those issues when he sustained his injury. After getting a week off, Fulky scored 14 points against the Gators to close the regular season. He was up to eight points in 19 minutes on Friday.

Tennessee shifted to a small-ball lineup without Fulkerson, moving Josiah James down to the four role. Reserve center Uros Plavsic also got some run.

The Vols will tip-off against Oregon State on Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET time on TNT.