The Tennessee Volunteers returned home from a disappointing trip to Kentucky to face an Arkansas team infamous for being shaky on the road. The Vols desperately needed this win to move above .500 in the SEC and regroup after the tough loss in Lexington.
In a contest similar to last week’s victory against Auburn, Tennessee was able to pull out the win in a very streaky game that saw both teams with equal chances to win. Jordan McRae dropped a season-high 34 points and added seven rebounds to the winning effort and Jeronne Maymon finished with a strong game, coming one rebound short of a double-double, grabbing nine boards and scoring 17 points.
Armani Moore also had a huge contribution to the game using his athleticism and effort to increase the tempo and also added 4 monster blocks. Coty Clarke led the way for the Razorbacks, scoring 16 points and shooting 50% from the field while grabbing 9 rebounds in the losing effort.
Tennessee experienced another slow start as Arkansas was able to grab an early 13-6 lead, but the Vols responded with a 12-0 run that placed the lead and momentum in their favor. Josh Richardson had another hot start , scoring seven of Tennessee’s first nine points, but Jarnell Stokes struggled to find good looks and his touch inside and was not able to play as well as he did on Saturday against Kentucky, finishing with only seven points and 6 rebounds.
The first half saw the lead change five times as the Vols were able to scrap out a two point halftime lead after a sloppy half for both teams full of turnovers.
Jordan McRae was able to come out of the locker room a completely different player for the second half and scored 8 of the first 10 points in the period while Arkansas was able to keep the game close and eventually pulled away to an 8 point lead behind the sharpshooter Kikko Haydar, who converted on all 3 of his shots from downtown.
“They were hard to guard because there’s no real offense it’s just cutting and moving,” said Jordan McRae. Arkansas was flowing and finding open shots while Tennessee struggled to defend the perimeter and rebound.
McRae seemed to be the only offense Tennessee had until about the 4:30 mark, where a pivotal 5-point possession occurred that gave complete momentum to Tennessee. Jeronne Maymon was intentionally fouled, giving him two free throws and possession to Tennessee.
Maymon hit both shots and McRae drained a 3-pointer off the ensuing possession that put Tennessee up 71-68. That play sparked a late 10-2 run by the Vols, which eventually pushed the lead to 76-70 with a little over a minute left in the game. Tennessee was able to hold on to the lead and improve to 12-6 on the season and 3-2 in the SEC.
The Vols kept focused and did what they needed to do to ensure a win against a feisty Arkansas team. “I don’t think we forced anything and we made the stops we needed towards the end,” said Jordan McRae. Tennessee was able to knock down shots when it mattered most and feed the hot-hand of McRae.
When asked what was different about the last couple of minutes of play, Sophomore Armani Moore said, “We had confidence with our shots. Jordan did a good job of that and got us the lead because of it. We all know who our go-to scorer is and Jordan stepped up to the plate tonight and made things happen.”
Tennessee probably would have never had a chance in this game if it were not for the monster second-half Jordan McRae had, scoring 24 of his 34 in the final 20 minutes.
When Coach Cuonzo Martin was asked what was different about McRae from the first half, he responded by saying, “The difference lies in the shots he was taking. If you look at the shots he was taking in the first half, they were mostly leaners and floaters, but in the second half he started to square up, attack the lane, and do a good job of catching and shooting. Jordan did a good job, he started slow, but as soon as he settled down and got his head up, he was good.”
Tennessee returns to action Friday as they travel to Gainesville to take on the No. 6 Florida Gators in a statement game for the Vols. Tennessee has passed up opportunities to show how good they could be with losses to Texas A&M and Kentucky and once again, cannot afford to drop to .500 in SEC play
Edited by Zach Dennis