Rick Barnes met with media following Tennessee’s loss to No. 25 Texas A&M Tuesday night. The Vols dropped their 5th game in the last 7 contests Tuesday, fighting valiantly in the 2nd half but falling a few buckets short. As with most Tennessee losses this season, the Vols just could not keep up offensively without a player able to create his own shot late.

It doesn’t help that 2 of Tennessee’s top players have been out of action for 4 straight games. Josiah-Jordan James, perhaps Tennessee’s most complete player, has been dealing with nagging injuries all season. Julian Phillips, the Vols’ dynamic 5-star freshman, tried to play in Tennessee’s loss to Missouri but had to exit with hip problems. He’s been out ever since, too.

Barnes has remained adamant that the 2 will play when they are back to 100%, but provided some interesting comments following Tuesday’s loss.

“It’s on them,” Barnes said, regarding the pair’s potential return. “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.”

It’s also worth noting that during the broadcast, both Karl Ravech and Jimmy Dykes noted that James looked good enough to play against the Aggies during warmups, with Dykes claiming: “I saw nothing from him that told me he couldn’t play tonight, just to be brutally honest about it.”

One thing is for certain, Tennessee needs 2 of its top 5 scorers back in a desperate way before March. At this rate, the Vols are heading for a 5-seed instead of a 2-seed come Selection Sunday.