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Josiah-Jordan James hopes to return on Saturday

Tennessee badly needs him.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

It hasn’t been the senior season that Josiah-Jordan James had in mind. Knee soreness cost him the majority of the non-conference games, then a turned ankle has forced him to the bench down the stretch of SEC play.

James suffered his latest injury against Vanderbilt a little over two weeks ago, and has yet to return. Making things worse? Julian Phillips went down in the following game with a hip injury. Those two situations have made things even more difficult for Tennessee, as they continue to stumble towards tournament season.

Tennessee has dropped five of their last seven games, now clinging to a No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament. A tough final week against Arkansas and at Auburn will determine if they can hang on to that first round bye and receive the auto-advance to Friday.

The Volunteers have played it safe with both James and Phillips, but it does sound like James is ready to give it a go on Saturday against South Carolina.

“I’m doing great,” James said at the Big Orange Tip-Off Club. “These last couple weeks I’ve been doing extensive work with Chad, our athletic trainer, and then ‘G’, our strength and conditioning coach. Hopefully, barring any setbacks, I’ll be out there Saturday. Looking forward to it.”

James said he expects to return to practice on Thursday.

In 16 games played this year, James is averaging 9.5 points per game, while adding 5.3 rebounds per contest. That rebounding number currently leads the team.

Maybe outside of a hot stretch last season, James has never been one to put up flashy numbers, but he makes the whole team better doing a little bit of everything. Tennessee has certainly missed his 6-6 length defensively, along with his senior leadership.

Getting him back settled into the lineup would be a big boost with everything to play in the coming weeks.

“We’re going to find a way,” Rick Barnes said of his team’s recent struggles. “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. They’re going to fight.”