Arkansas came close enough to losing the last three games that it's left many uncomfortable, but the team still has won these last three games. The Razorbacks are certainly a flawed team that can make mind-boggling plays at times, but they are a good team. And in college basketball, all that matters is getting wins. Style points don't matter.
There were still some style points, however. The Hogs have won three games in six days now, and did so while multiple players were sick. In fact, Jacorey Williams got sick on the bench in the first half and Anton Beard was forced to change uniforms. Arkansas was getting beat badly on the boards in the first half but dominated in the second 18-10, and that extra effort payed dividends.
The difference in the game was Arkansas' ability to get to the free throw line in the second half. Both teams made the same number of shots but the Razorbacks were 7-9 from the free throw line in the second half while the Vols only attempted two free throws and missed both. Those seven points are what turned the Hogs' 2-point halftime deficit into a 5-point victory.
Both teams had four players in double figures and three total players scored 17 points. Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls both reached that number for Arkansas and Josh Richardson did so for Tennessee. Portis did most of his damage in the first half, scoring 13, and Qualls came through in the second half, scoring 14 of his 17. Beard came off the bench and scored 10 points in the first half. Interestingly, he didn't score once he changed his jersey to #15, so here's to hoping he doesn't have to change his jersey anymore. Beard didn't play as much in the second half. Mike Anderson said he thought the lineup he had in the game when Portis and Moses Kingsley played together was working really well. That included Anthlon Bell in the 2-guard spot, and Bell did hit a couple of nice jumpers.
Neither team ever held more than a 5-point lead other than Arkansas starting off the game scoring 7 straight, but once the Vols got going neither team was able to truly take control. The Razorbacks actually trailed by five at a couple of points in the second half, but eventually began to overtake the Vols. Qualls hit a jumper with 14 minutes left that tied the game and the Razorbacks never trailed again although the game was still tied four more times down the stretch. Ky Madden broke the last tie with a three pointer from the wing to give the Hogs the lead for good.
Tennessee had a chance to send the game to overtime when the Vols had one last possession at midcourt with 11 seconds left down three. Josh Richardson drove into the lane and the Hogs collapsed on him, leaving Robert Hubbs III wide open in the corner. Hubbs' shot bounced around the rim but eventually fell off and Qualls grabbed the rebound and hit the ensuing free throws to seal the victory.
The Volunteers came into the game with an RPI ranking of 54, so this is another quality win for the Razorbacks. Also, Tennessee came into this game even with the Hogs in SEC play with a 4-2 conference record, so Arkansas is now a game up on them.
Now the Hogs travel to Gainesville, where they haven't won since 1995. The Gators lost three in a row to Georgia, LSU, and Ole Miss, but just won tonight in Tuscaloosa over Alabama. They don't have a great RPI (85 before the win on the road over Alabama), but it's a road game against a team that still demands a lot of respect. It's a big opportunity game for Arkansas.