Tennessee basketball’s late game push came up short at Texas A&M Tuesday night as the Vols fell to the Aggies 68-63 in College Station.
It was Tennessee’s second loss in three games with freshman Julian Phillips out of the lineup and the Vols’ third loss in four games with senior Josiah-Jordan James out of the lineup.
When could Tennessee get the two starters back on the court?
“It’s on them,” Barnes said postgame. “I have to believe they are doing everything they can to get back. I believe that. I have to believe it with all my heart because they’re competitive. They want to play but, again, no one is working any harder than what (trainer) Chad (Newman) and (strength coach) Garrett (Medenwald) are.”
Tennessee looked like it might get one if not both of the starting wings back in the lineup against Texas A&M. Both James and Phillips went through pregame warmups and ESPN announcers Karl Ravech and Jimmy Dykes expressed surprise that James didn’t play.
“(We) watched shoot around and I thought there was an opportunity for Josiah-Jordan James to play tonight,” play-by-play man Ravech said in the second half.
“I saw nothing from (James) that told me he couldn’t play tonight, just to be brutally honest about it,” Dykes responded.
James has dealt with injuries all season, missing eight games earlier in the season with a knee injury before missing four straight with a sprained ankle. The senior forward is averaging 9.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game this season.
Phillips is dealing with a strained hip flexor he suffered in practice before the Missouri game. The five-star freshman played 10 minutes in the first half against the Tigers, scoring four points before being unable to return due to the pain. Phillips is averaging nine points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
More From RTI: Three Takeaways On Tennessee’s Loss At Texas A&M
Tennessee shooting guard Santiago Vescovi was also questionable for the Vols’ matchup at Texas A&M due to illness. Vescovi missed Tennessee’s Monday practice, watching from the side in a heavy winter coat before totaling 14 points and 10 rebounds against the Aggies.
“Just proud, again Santi hasn’t practiced, you guys saw it, he hasn’t practiced the last couple days and came into shootaround and really mentally tried to get done what he needed to get done,” Barnes said.
With few regular season goals ahead of Tennessee, the Vols’ goal is to get the two back fully healthy before postseason play and the NCAA Tournament. This current group of Tennessee players has twice made the NCAA Tournament but has yet to make it to the second weekend.
“They’re doing what we ask them to do but we don’t want them to play unless they’re healthy,” Barnes said of James and Phillips.
Its been a rough February for Tennessee. The Vols entered the month ranked second nationally but has gone 2-5 with home wins over top 25 foes Auburn and Alabama.
“We’re going to find a way,” Barnes said. “I’ve seen a lot of things in my career. I’ve seen teams that struggle like we have here.”