I don't know what it is about Thompson-Boling Arena, but add 2015 to the list of disappointing results in Knoxville for the Razorback basketball program.
Arkansas has only won at Tennessee twice in the program's history. In 1994, naturally, but those legends only won by a single point, and when Ronnie Brewer led a comeback for a narrow victory in 2006. Other than that, all losses dating back to 1992. Arkansas has a better record in Rupp Arena.
And in 2015, with the Hogs ranked #19 and Tennessee unranked after significant roster turnover and coming off a dreadful performance against Alabama, the Razorbacks played terribly until the last 10 minutes of the game.
The Razorbacks were down 16 with 10 minutes to go and appeared to be completely out of sync offensively. They'd only scored 38 points at that point and it looked for all intents and purposes like the Hogs were simply not going to put up much of a fight.
But, incredibly, 31 points in the final 10 minutes put the Hogs at the free throw line with a chance to tie the game in the last few seconds. Fouled on a desperation three point attempt that could have tied it, freshman Anton Beard went to the free throw line to try to send the game to overtime.
Beard has only attempted 13 free throws this season and made 8 heading into tonight, and was a big reason the Hogs were in that position because he hit two threes in the last minute of the game. Unfortunately, he missed the first two free throws and missed the third on purpose in an attempt to get a necessary offensive rebound, but it didn't work out.
It's important to note, while Tennessee is certainly not an elite team this year, or even a pretty good one like the last few seasons, they're also not a horrible team. They'd only lost at home once this season and that includes wins over Butler and Kansas State. It's certainly disappointing that Arkansas was a slight favorite and didn't play with the necessary urgency until too late, but this is not a season-crippling loss.
Arkansas is not on the NCAA Tournament bubble right now, and it's going to take much more than one road loss to put them there. If the Hogs lose to Tennessee in Fayetteville in a couple of weeks, that would be really bad, but losing on the road to them isn't that detrimental to the season. The wins over SMU and Georgia have given the Hogs a great deal of credibility, and they'll still be favored in more road games this season.
That won't stop people from spitting out the same road game narrative that we've heard since well before Mike Anderson arrived at Arkansas, but since it's still a thing even after beating Kentucky, SMU, Georgia, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi State on the road to close last year and open this year, I'm not sure that storyline will ever die.
So what happened in Knoxville? Tennessee's defensive zone was giving Arkansas fits. Arkansas' normally-crisp passes around the perimeter were forced to be elongated. They couldn't get the ball to anyone down low. Bobby Portis didn't attempt a two-point shot unit after his usual mid-first-half break nearly 12 minutes into the game. He ended up with 17, but like the rest of the team, it just started too late. Michael Qualls finished with 15 points and Beard had 12.
Nobody else was particularly effective. Anthlon Bell hit a three early and hit a crazy one from the corner in the last minute of the game, but only made one shot in between to finish with 8. Jacorey Williams started and hit two baskets in the game's first minute but that would be all. Ky Madden hit two threes but finished 2-7 from the field.
Arkansas couldn't control the Vols' best three players at all. Josh Richardson, Armoni Moore, and Robert Hubbs III were a combined 20-26 from the field for 50 points.
The game was somewhat similar to the Georgia game in that Arkansas started slowly and tried to come back at the end, but the Hogs got one of Alandise Harris' best games that night in Athens. They can't count on that every time. The Razorbacks will have to start games with the same type of intensity they use to close games or these types of outcomes could continue to happen.
But the next two games are back at the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena, against Ole Miss (took Kentucky to OT) and Alabama (just beat this same Tennessee team). Neither of those games are gimmies but the Hogs will be favored and it will be important to win them and get the 4-1 record in SEC play.