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Rick Barnes explains the impact of Josiah-Jordan James

He’s back, and Tennessee needed him.

South Carolina v Tennessee Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

And finally, a much-needed moment to breathe for Tennessee basketball. The Volunteers returned home on Saturday evening, and once again took apart the South Carolina Gamecocks. It was a scene oddly familiar to the one we saw back in January, with Tennessee nearly doubling up their rivals from the Palmetto State.

Tennessee won 85-45, and they were led by none other than Josiah-Jordan James. You think this team missed him?

James has been out since the buzzer-beater loss to Vanderbilt, while Julian Phillips has been out since the buzzer-beater loss to Missouri. Thankfully for Tennessee, James was able to return and give his team a massive lift on Saturday night.

James poured in 18 points in just 21 minutes, shooting 7-11 from the field. That included 4-7 from three-point range.

“Really we’re all happy for Josiah,” Rick Barnes said after the game. “We know what he means to the program. He dealt with a lot. He came back to practice after we got back from A&M and probably did more than we thought, but he wanted to do it. Today, he was terrific. And his presence has such a major impact on our team because he’s been in so many big opportunities, big-game situations.”

Coming into the game against South Carolina, Tennessee had dropped five of their last seven. The offense was still a struggle, and the defense was certainly missing the length of James and Phillips.

On Saturday, they at least got one part of that equation back, and it clearly made a big difference.

“I think his presence takes a lot of pressure off of guys,” Barnes said. “He gives his teammates a comfort. I thought when he came on the floor tonight in the first half he was obviously terrific. I thought he played with great poise and pace. He got a little tired, but I kept telling him hey, I’ll let you tell me. When I took him out there at the end, he said what do you think? I said I think you’ve had enough. Because we know we’re going to continue to need him down the stretch. His presence makes huge difference.”

His return couldn’t have come at a better time, either. Tennessee is holding on to the No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament, meaning they’re holding on to the last double-bye. The problem is, a tough week is ahead. They’ll host Arkansas then travel to Auburn to finish, with three 9-7 teams in SEC play tied underneath them and ready to pounce.

Getting Phillips back is the next step, and now there’s a new situation to monitor. Tyreke Key missed Saturday’s game with a swollen ankle, which was a surprise to both Key and the staff.

“Julian went through it,” Barnes said of his attempt to play. “Tyreke, Tyreke’s deal, we didn’t know anything about it until right before game time. His ankle really blew up on him. He is not even sure why. He doesn’t know what happened with it. Julian goes through shootaround. He knows it. A hip flexor is a problem. He is trying to do what he has to do with it certainly.”

Tennessee hosts Arkansas on Tuesday night (9 p.m. ET) and then travels to Auburn on Saturday afternoon (2 p.m. ET). Unfortunately, injuries will steal the headlines once again this week, but Triple-J is at least back and ready to roll.