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Barnes expects James, Phillips to return against South Carolina

Finally some good news on the injury front.

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

Losers of five of seven, Tennessee could use some good news. It sounds like they’re going to get some on Saturday, as Josiah-Jordan James and Julian Phillips inch closer to returning to the lineup for the Volunteers.

Tennessee has just three games left, one of which coming on Saturday evening against South Carolina in Knoxville. Rick Barnes believes a couple members of his starting five will finally be back and ready to play.

“I think so,” Barnes said when asked if they would play against the Gamecocks. “How much, we don’t know. I think that will be a game-time decision. They both were in practice with us yesterday. They’ll be back out there.”

James injured his ankle a couple of weeks back against Vanderbilt. Phillips hurt his hip in practice, then re-aggravated in the Missouri game the following Saturday. Tennessee has gone on to drop games against Kentucky and Texas A&M since, but they were able to take down then No. 1 Alabama in Knoxville.

With tournament season approaching, you can still expect Tennessee to be cautious with both players on Saturday.

“I haven’t talked Jo, he actually put a good load in yesterday,” Barnes said. “Probably more than we thought he would or expect him to. He wanted to do it. You know he is going to be a little bit sore. He is certainly not 100%. Julian, yesterday, didn’t do quite as much but was out there. I know our team admires them for them trying to push through. They’ve got injuries. They want to help their team win. There is no doubt about that. We will see how it all goes today.”

South Carolina enters this one just 3-12 in SEC play and 10-18 overall. However, they gave Alabama a game on Wednesday night, though the Crimson Tide were dealing with some obvious distractions.

Tennessee doubled up South Carolina in Columbia back in January, 85-42.

“I think they’ve done a terrific job of getting better each each and every game,” Barnes said of South Carolina. “They’ve settled in with the players they’ve gotten and we saw what they did the other night. They had the No. 2 team in the country on the ropes with a chance to win it. That speaks volumes about their players and their coaching staff.”

Tennessee and South Carolina are set for a 6 p.m. ET tip-off in Knoxville. SEC Network will have the coverage.