John Fulkerson rises to lift No. 19 Tennessee men's basketball over No. 4 Arizona

Mike Wilson
Knoxville News Sentinel

John Fulkerson turned to the Tennessee basketball crowd and waved his hands in the air Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Vols forward, who suffered through a deflating and emotional first senior season, had done it again. He was in the right place at the right time, running to the rim and gathering a loose ball after Kennedy Chandler’s shot was blocked.

Fulkerson tossed the ball into the hoop as Arizona’s Dalen Terry tossed him, his final terrific moment to hold off a furious Arizona comeback.

Tennessee got its best win of the season behind a vintage Fulkerson performance, a 77-73 victory against No. 4 Arizona (11-1). 

Fulkerson, who returned to Tennessee for a sixth season, had 24 points and 10 rebounds for No. 19 Tennessee (9-2). He was 8-for-13 shooting and 8-for-12 from the free-throw line, as he put many of Arizona's key players in foul trouble.

Tennessee’s first-half defensive clinic

Chandler swatted the ball away from Kerr Kriisa on Arizona’s second possession. Tennessee kept pestering the Wildcats, forcing turnover after turnover in the first half and stifling the nation’s highest-scoring offense.

The Vols had three straight steals — Olivier Nkamhoua and Santiago Vescovi followed Chandler’s. They forced nine turnovers in the first 7:32, fueling the lockdown effort.

Tennessee limited Arizona to 21 points before halftime. The Wildcats averaged 91 points per game entering Wednesday.

The Vols had nine first-half steals. Arizona committed 12 first-half turnovers. The Wildcats averaged 12.5 turnovers per game through 11 games.

Bennedict Mathurin was a problem

Arizona sophomore guard Bennedict Mathurin was the Wildcats' lone source of offense in the first half. He had 14 of Arizona's 21 points and was the lone Wildcat with more than one field goal.

Mathurin finished with a game-high 28 points.

Mathrurin was especially key given Tennessee had Arizona forward Azuolas Tubelis and center Christian Koloko in constant foul trouble.

Tennessee answers Arizona’s runs

Tennessee took a 22-7 lead, then dropped off offensively. UT made one field goal and a pair of free throws in the following 11:10 as Arizona cut UT’s lead to 26-21.

Fulkerson responded with an and-one, Vescovi hit a long 3-pointer and Chandler Euro-stepped to the rim for an 8-0 run in the final 1:02 of the first half. 

Tennessee handed three intense pushes from Arizona, including two early in the second half thanks to Josiah-Jordan James. Arizona scored eight straight to open the second half. James hit a 3-pointer and a midrange jumper to slow the push and start an 8-1 Vols run.

The Wildcats immediately went on a 10-2 run to cut UT’s lead to four. James stole the ball, then hit a 3-pointer to stop the run.

Fulkerson was Tennessee's answer to Arizona's final run, as the Wildcats tied the game 62-62.

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Up next

Tennessee opens SEC play at Alabama on Dec. 29 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at michael.wilson@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.