Tennessee opened the home portion of their SEC schedule on Tuesday night with a dominating performance against Mississippi State. From the opening tip, this one was over. The Volunteers came out red hot from three-point range. They built up a big lead — even before one of the most important players on the team took the floor.
Josiah-Jordan James returned to the rotation against the Bulldogs, appearing in his first game in nearly a month. We last saw him on December 7th against Eastern Kentucky, playing on a pitch count. He once again was on a minute restriction on Wednesday, but it sounds like things have been trending in the right direction on that front.
“It definitely does (feel better),” James said after the game. “I’m on some new medicine. I’ve been on it for about three-or-four days now. It’s definitely just helped with the pain. I haven’t felt any pain since three-or-four days ago when I got on the new medicine so hopefully we just keep moving forward and keep treatment up right now.”
James came off the bench to score eight points on 3-5 shooting, including an alley-oop finish from Zakai Zeigler. He added four assists and a steal in his 17 minutes of play.
“When we were doing layup lines I felt bouncy,” James continued. “I felt good. Sometimes it was kind of like the landing part that would trigger it and upset my knee and it felt good, so I knew tonight that I was going to be fine in terms of my knee in warmups.”
Josiah really came on at the end of last season, helping to power Tennessee to an SEC Tournament title run. He was expected to lead Tennessee this year alongside of Santiago Vescovi, both in their senior seasons now. However, that hasn’t been the case. A lagging knee issue has derailed his season so far, limiting him to just a handful of appearances.
The Tennessee staff has been very careful with him, taking things day to day and hoping to have him back by the end of the season. Tuesday’s showing was a good sign for that thought process.
“You can tell he’s been different,” Rick Barnes said. “When he came back even early in the year, when he played against I think Colorado, we knew in practice he wasn’t the same guy. The last couple days, since he’s been in practice, he’s been the Josiah we know he can be. And he affects the game. He and Santi really have a cohesiveness about them when they’re on the court together. They see things that make it easier for everybody.”
As good as Tennessee has been this year, it’s pretty wild that we have yet to see them at full strength. If they can add back a Josiah-Jordan James for 30 minutes per game, that’s an obvious massive boost for the already No. 8 team in the country.