Vols head basketball coach Rick Barnes stated following Tennessee’s loss to Alabama that Florida head coach Mike White reached out after Friday’s game between the Vols and Gators to apologize for the incident that took place between John Fulkerson and Omar Payne.
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.
“Mike White texted me right after the game,” Barnes said following the loss to the Crimson Tide. “He was upset, as any coach would be. I’ve told people, I’ve been in situations like that over the many years I’ve been in it either as a head coach, assistant coach when something like that happens. It’s happened a couple times with me where the person who did it you would least expect them to do it. Sometimes in the heat of battle, things happen. You don’t want to see it happen. There’s tremendous regret when it does afterwards.
“Mike, everyone, reached out to us after the game. Omar I think did last night or this morning with John. I know Mike reached out to John. What Fulky said I think is John Fulkerson, he accepted it. You hate to see it, but in the heat of battle, again, sometimes emotions can bring the worst out of you sometimes. But, yeah, it’s over with. It’s done with. We’ll get on down the road.”
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. Barnes stated that he doesn’t know whether Fulkerson will be available for the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament next weekend.
“I know a lot of people are upset with what happened during yesterday’s game,” Fulkerson tweeted out Saturday morning. “Omar reached out to me this morning and was very remorseful. Everyone makes mistakes. Let’s all show grace and focus on today’s game. Go Vols!”
I know a lot of people are upset with what happened during yesterday’s game. Omar reached out to me this morning and was very remorseful. Everyone makes mistakes. Let’s all show grace and focus on today’s game. Go Vols!
— John Fulkerson (@fulkerson_john) March 13, 2021
Payne also issued a statement on Twitter Saturday morning, apologizing for his actions. He was ejected at the time of Fulkerson’s injury and whether or not he’ll receive further discipline has not yet been decided.
“I’m sorry for what transpired yesterday and deeply regret the incident,” Payne wrote in a tweeted statement. “I have nothing but respect for John and Tennessee program. Especially, their support for my brother Keyontae this season. I’ve apologized to John and wanted to also say I’m sorry publicly to him, the Tennessee team and Coach Barnes. I wish them the best on their NCAA tournament run.”
— Omar Payne (@Ogomarpayne) March 13, 2021