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Rick Barnes updates the status of John Fulkerson

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for Tennessee in its 78-66 win over Florida in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament on Friday afternoon. The Vols earned a chance to knock off top-seeded Alabama (22-6, 16-2 SEC) on Saturday with a trip to the SEC title game on the line, but they’ll likely be without one of their best players.

Tennessee (18-7, 10-7 SEC) senior forward John Fulkerson had to leave the game against the Gators with 17:10 remaining in the second half after Florida forward Omar Payne delivered two unnecessary elbows. The first one connected with Fulkerson’s throat, while the second one connected with Fulkerson’s head. He would not return to the game.

“I didn’t see it,” Vols head coach Rick Barnes said following the game. “Heard it wasn’t good at all, obviously. They did take him to the hospital just for observation. I think it was more for his eye than anything else. Tomorrow, I don’t know right now if we could say we can count on him. Again, we’ll wait and see. My gut feeling, he took two pretty good licks right there and I’d be surprised if he is available.”

“They said he was fine, they just were taking him to the hospital for observation. Somebody mentioned to me about the eye. That’s all I know.”

Fulkerson was playing well prior to the elbow. He had eight points on 3-for-4 shooting in 19 minutes when Payne took it upon himself to end Fulkerson’s afternoon. Fulkerson also had a rebound and a block.

On the bright side of Fulkerson’s injury, Tennessee responded well. The Vols led 36-25 at the time of the elbow, and after a four-point possession as a result of the Flagrant 2 foul against Payne, they led 40-25. UT would go on to lead by as many as 17 and out-score Florida 47-44 in the second half to win by 12.

“They were very upset,” Barnes said. “Our guys have such great respect and love for Fulky, but for each other. We had to calm them down, no doubt about it, because they felt like it was unnecessary.”

“It pissed us off,” Vols senior forward Yves Pons said after blocking a program record nine shots. “It had nothing to do with the basketball court.”

Without Fulkerson, Tennessee will need contributions from Olivier Nkamhoua, Uros Plavsic and E.J. Anosike against Alabama. Plavsic got the call against the Gators, as Barnes felt like his size and length could disrupt Florida. He delivered, scoring two points and grabbing a rebound in five minutes.

“This time of year you got to do what you got to do,” Barnes said. “I thought Uros was terrific. I like to think if we go to Olivier (Nkamhoua) or E.J. (Anosike), those guys will be ready to roll. Whatever we’re going to have to do, this time of year, one game at a time. You try to win and move on.”

Tennessee and Alabama are scheduled to tip at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN tomorrow afternoon. The Crimson Tide beat the Vols 71-63 in Knoxville earlier this season.

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