Arkansas finally snapped that horrendous 7-game SEC Tournament losing streak with a nice win over Tennessee Friday night.
It was one of those games that have been all too common for the Razorbacks over the last few weeks, in which the Hogs built up a big lead in the first half only to see it threatened in the second instead of holding onto the blowout. The detriment in doing that in a tournament like this is that Arkansas potentially lost an opportunity to limit the minutes the starters had to play and keep them a little more fresh for tomorrow's game. But it didn't work out that way, naturally.
The lead was built on a tremendous first half by Bobby Portis. He had 18 points and 6 rebounds in the first twenty minutes (finished with 26). He "only" scored 17 points in each of the first two games against the Vols, so his presence was definitely felt tonight. It overshadowed what was also a great first half from Michael Qualls, who scored 11 in the opening period (finished with 20).
The Hogs' were also great on defense early on, holding the Vols to just four field goals in the first half. Free throws kept them respectable early on as the Hogs went into halftime with a 45-25 lead.
Arkansas being Arkansas, the lead quickly dwindled. Tennessee went on a 13-2 run a few minutes into the half and a few minutes later went on an 8-0 run and the lead was cut to only 5 with just under five minutes to go. But the Hogs were able to hold on because they made their free throws. The refs called a really tight game in the second half and Arkansas made 11 free throws in the last 3 minutes to ice the game.
The Razorbacks only made two field goals in the last 10 minutes of the game but the Vols and the officials put them on the free throw line enough to maintain the lead. Arkansas was 23-28 from the free throw line in the second half alone, 32-39 for the game.
The refs made their presence felt. Three players, including Josh Richardson for Tennessee, fouled out. Five other players had four fouls. It certainly affected how the game was played because some players had to spend more time on the bench than usual.
The Arkansas starters did almost all the scoring in this one. Anthlon Bell was the only player who scored off the bench. He had 6 points, which included a snazzy four-point play in the first half. But clearly, Arkansas will need their bench to contribute more to the team's scoring production in the tournament if the Hogs are to go very far. Alandise Harris also had 14 points, including a thunderous dunk through the lane in the second half. Ky Madden had nine points.
Tennessee's RPI is hovering around 100, so it's good that the Hogs avoided a bad loss this late in the game. The win may have clinched a 5-seed for Arkansas, but that likely won't be determined for sure until later. The Razorbacks will play the South Carolina/Georgia winner Saturday afternoon, and if they play the Gamecocks again, they'll need to win to avoid a bad loss. If they play Georgia, it's potentially another top 50 win, which would be great especially because both Texas A&M and Ole Miss fell out of the top 50 after their poor finishes to the season.
The Razorbacks are playing on Saturday of the SEC Tournament. In a year of "first time since..." this one is since 2008.