After an impressive run through non-conference play, No. 19 Tennessee kicked off SEC play on Saturday afternoon with a trip to Arkansas.
The Vols held a 70-61 lead with 3:53 remaining in the game, but the senior-laden Razorbacks went on a 12-2 run to take their first lead of the game. Tennessee point guard Jordan Bone would hit a free throw to tie the game at 73-all with eight seconds remaining and send the game to overtime.
In overtime, Arkansas sprinted out of the gates, going on a 16-5 run, but Tennessee wouldn’t go down without a fight. The Vols would make it a 2-point game following back-to-back 3’s from Lamonté Turner, but that’s all Rick Barnes’ squad could muster.
Here’s what we learned about the Vols in their loss to the Razorbacks, despite leading for 38 minutes of play.
Tennessee is inconsistent in the closing minutes of games.
Once again, Tennessee couldn’t close it out late in a game. The Vols held a 70-61 lead over Arkansas with 3:53 remaining in the game and then everything fell by the wayside. Tennessee’s offense became stagnant, they didn’t play good defense and they couldn’t make their free throws.
At the charity stripe, Tennessee was 18-of-26, a lackluster 69 percent. Bone was at the free throw line with eight seconds remaining in the game, down by one, with a chance to give the Vols a lead, but he only made one of his free throws and the game went into overtime.
A few minutes earlier, Jordan Bowden was fouled on a three-point attempt. Despite being one of the best free throw shooters on the team, Bowden made just one of his three free throw attempts. Had Tennessee made its free throws down the stretch, the game never goes into overtime and the Vols escape victoriously.
The Vols defense played well enough over the course of 38 minutes to pick up the win, but the offense was far too stagnant late in the second half. Much of this was due to foul trouble, but Tennessee has enough depth to where the offense should run smoothly regardless of who is in the game.
Whether Grant Williams or Admiral Scofield is in the game or not, the Vols need to run better offensive sets late in games. There isn’t enough ball movement, creating far too many instances of Tennessee beginning to run a play with 10-or-fewer seconds remaining on the shot clock, leading to a poor shot.
For most of the game, Tennessee did a good job of answering the mini-runs Arkansas would go on which is something Barnes’ squads haven’t done the previous two seasons. Good teams find a way to respond to adversity, but great teams find a way to consistently end runs. While it’s a positive sign for things to come, the Vols have failed to play a complete 40 minutes against North Carolina, Villanova and Arkansas this season – their three losses on the season. If Tennessee wants to make a deep run into March, they’re going to need to be more consistent in late game situations. Until then, they’ll continue to lose to really good teams in the final minutes of games.
Tennessee has to learn to defend without fouling.
Tennessee’s defense played well for most of Saturday’s contest. With 6:51 remaining in the game, Arkansas had scored just 54 points. The Vols defense was pitching a masterpiece considering the Razorbacks are averaging 95.0 points per game at home this season.
Then, everything flipped on its head. 11:51 later, Arkansas had 95 points, scoring 41 points in almost 12 minutes of play. It doesn’t matter if you’re facing Michael Jordan, that can’t happen.
Tennessee’s poor defensive play down the stretch can be attributed to the absence of Bowden, Kyle Alexander, Williams and Schofield – who were in foul trouble and fouled out late in the game – but Arkansas blitzed Tennessee to close the game.
The fourth-and-fifth foul calls on Williams were questionable, but that doesn’t change the fact that Tennessee needs to learn how to defend without fouling. Far too many times this season we’ve seen the Vols get into foul trouble and it cost them down the stretch. The Vols fared well without Williams and Schofield against Wake Forest, but that proved to be a fluke as Tennessee was lost down the stretch without the two’s leadership.
We’re starting to realize just how important Jordan Bowden is to Tennessee.
Along with Williams and Schofield, Bowden’s early foul trouble really hampered Tennessee against the Hogs.
The sophomore is the Vols best perimeter defender who usually draws the responsibility of defending the opponent’s best wing players. Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford make up a deadly back court combination for Arkansas, and Bowden had held them in check for most of the game. When Bowden exited with foul trouble, the pair exploded, combining to score 61 points.
Not only did Tennessee miss Bowden’s defensive presence, it missed his offensive presence as well. The Knoxville native is second in the country in 3-point percentage, but didn’t attempt a single three on the afternoon. That cannot happen going forward if the Vols want to be successful. Bowden is too good of an offensive player to not be utilized.
Being utilized also falls on Bowden. He is naturally a soft-spoken kid, but going forward, he needs to step up and demand the ball more. Especially when Williams isn’t in the game and the Vols are in a rut offensively.
Edited by Seth Raborn
Feature image courtesy of Arkansas Athletics