Many thought Arkansas’ SEC schedule set up badly enough that the Razorbacks would start the season 0-3 and spend a while digging out of a hole, but a funny thing happened on the way to the cellar. The Hogs went out to Knoxville and knocked off a hot Vols team coming off a road win at Texas A&M.
Like most of the road wins are, this one was hard-earned. It didn’t look great early on. The Hogs had to sit Dusty Hannahs and Daryl Macon for extended stretches in the first half due to foul trouble, and the Vols put Arkansas in an early 39-26 deficit. But Anton Beard and Jaylen Barford combined to score 11 straight points in the last three minutes of the first half to cut the halftime deficit to two points, keeping the Razorbacks in the game.
Arkansas took the lead almost immediately in the second half and it felt like they spent the last 20 minutes clinging to the lead for dear life. They never lost the lead. It got to one point on four separate occasions, but each time the Hogs fought back.
It was especially tough considering the Razorbacks had trouble getting to the free throw line. It won the game for the Hogs against Texas but this time Arkansas kept the lead by making shots until the near-end. The Razorbacks weren’t in the bonus until the last few minutes of the game while the Vols spent about the last 10 minutes in the bonus.
The team had a solid shooting night away from Fayetteville. Arkansas shot an even 50% from the floor, including 5-11 from three. Their 71.2% from the free throw line is actually below their average. They held Tennessee to only 39.1% shooting, which normally means Arkansas would win easily, but the Vols were able to take their 14-5 offensive rebounding advantage and generate a 15-4 advantage in second-chance points. It kept them in the game, but it proved not to be enough.
It wasn’t enough because when Arkansas was finally able to get into the bonus, they were able to ice the game. Macon was 8-8 from the free throw line in the final minute. Barford made a pair when the lead was down to one. Moses Kingsley drained one. They were 11-12 overall in the last 91 seconds and the Razorbacks needed every one of them.
It was close enough in the second half that it felt as though every play was a big play. Macon hit a deep, deep three at one point. Hannahs drained a triple early on in the second half. Everything was huge.
It was great to see Barford play such a good game. His 14 points weren’t a season high, but this was his best game of the year. He was 5-8 from the field and hit two threes in the first half.
Anton Beard continues to have a great season. He finished with 16 points on 6-8 shooting. Macon finished with 15 points thanks to his free throw shooting. Hannahs had 13. Kingsley continues to struggle offensively, scoring 7 points on 3-10 shooting, but he did have 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. Kingsley also had a really nice assist on a lob pass from the top of the key to Dustin Thomas underneath the basket. Thomas was able to drop in the basket. I continue to push the thought that Kingsley shouldn’t spend so much time toward the top of the key, but it seems like we might be stuck with this, unfortunately. Hopefully it won’t bite the Hogs too much.
We’re starting to see that Mike Anderson is using a much smaller rotation in tough SEC games. Only 9 players got on the floor tonight. None of the three freshmen played. I understand why they didn’t play, but it will be a positive for the Hogs to find some SEC minutes for them going forward, particularly Adrio Bailey and CJ Jones.
As it stands, this is probably the most important win for the Razorbacks this year. Tennessee was ranked nearly in the top 50 of the RPI going into the game, so to beat them on the road is really good. Arkansas gets to visit Rupp Arena on Saturday, and while I won’t say the Hogs have no chance, it would be a nice surprise if the team can pull off that upset, but most likely the team was staring at an 0-3 start before coming back to Fayetteville and hosting Mississippi State and Missouri, games that should help them improve their win total.
But that’s all in the future. The Razorbacks will be anxiously awaiting their shot at Kentucky on Saturday and celebrating an important win tonight.