Thompson-Boling Arena was deflated just before tip-off with news that starting forward Kenny Hall was suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team.
The Vols didn't need him.
The Tennessee Volunteers (14-12, 6-5 SEC) roared out to an early lead and never looked back as they slayed the Arkansas Razorbacks (17-9, 5-6 SEC) 77-58 Wednesday night.
"We did a great job as a team and played well on both ends of the floor," Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "We were forcing them to make tough plays."
Sophomore guard Jordan McRae came off the bench to lead Tennessee with 14 points and three blocks as six Volunteers reached the double-digit scoring plateau.
"I definitely feel like I'm playing my best," McRae said. "We're winning games so there's nothing else you can really ask for."
Tennessee went on a 19-0 run early on 9-for-10 shooting at the 13:29 mark of the first half and led by as much as 24 before the Razorbacks ended the first half on a 7-0 run. The lead was 47-30 at the halftime break, their second-most first half points this season behind 49 against UNC Greensboro. Their 68 percent from the field in the opening half was the highest mark for any half this season.
"When we use our dribble (penetration), lanes open up and guys get open," McRae said of Tennessee's early shooting success.
Trae Golden had 13 points and seven assists for the Vols, who won their four straight game. Martin attributes a lot of their recent success to Golden's budding leadership.
"The biggest key is Trae," Martin said. "Great teams have great point guards, and he's been putting his team in a position to be successful."
McRae has been one of Tennessee's most reliable scoring options despite not starting since early this season. He sees advantages to his sixth man role.
"I kind of like coming off the bench now," McRae said. "It's cool, it gives me a chance to see what the man I'm guarding is doing."
Despite going through a shooting slump in conference play, Martin has continued to give Cameron Tatum minutes due to his work ethic and hard defensive play. He finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.
"(Martin) has strong loyalty, you can't go wrong with a guy like that," Tatum said.
Arkansas cut the lead to 10 in the second half, but the Vols were able to keep a sizable lead behind a wide range of scoring. The Razorbacks had no answer for Tennessee's inside presence of Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes, who scored 12 and 10 points, respectively.
"Being really aggressive is key," Martin said. "Don't settle and attack the rim."
Ball-hawking defense and steals paved the way to early defensive success as the crowd was ignited by their play. Five Volunteers had six or more points in the opening frame, led by McRae with 11 off the bench.
One shining statistic for Arkansas came from their new starter, B.J. Young. The freshman guard had 18 points and is averaging more than 20 points in his last three games.
Relishing his new starting role, Skylar McBee added 12 points on four 3-pointers as his team shot 11-for-23 (48 percent) for the game.
The Vols didn't need Hall tonight, but they know it may not be the same case throughout the rest of the season. McRae wants some of his bench mates to fill the gap left by Hall, who won't travel to Tuscaloosa this weekend when the Vols face Alabama. The Crimson Tide also look to be slowed down by suspensions.
"It's going to be tough (without Hall), but it just means someone else is going to have to come off the bench and step up," McRae said.