FAYETTEVILLE – The Razorback men’s basketball team held off a strong second half rally by the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday afternoon to earn the 68-65 victory at Bud Walton Arena. Three Razorbacks led the way scoring double digits in points, with senior Delvon Johnson leading all Razorback scorers with 17 and four rebounds.
The win gives Arkansas (11-3, 1-0) their first conference victory of the season and their first over Tennessee since the 2007-08 season. The Volunteers suffer a loss in its conference opener as well and second in its last three games.
“We’re very fortunate to win today,” said Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey. “We knew how good Tennessee was going to be. They are a very deep team, but I thought our guys showed toughness when people questioned how we would come out.”
The Razorbacks, who held a one-point lead at the half, actually built their lead up to as many as 11 by the midway point in the second half. Strong inside play from Johnson and sophomore Marshawn Powell were the main factors in the quick start, but solid outside shooting from junior Rotnei Clarke was also a big boost to the Razorbacks as he had four three-pointers by the 10-minute mark. Clarke’s first three-pointer of the half tied him with Todd Day for third on Arkansas’ all-time chart. He now has 227 three-pointers for his Razorback career.
A layup by junior Jeff Peterson would give the Hogs a 57-44 lead with just over eight minutes to play, their largest lead of the day, but from there the Volunteers would slowly whittle that lead down to three with a minute to play. Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson would combine to score 23 of Tennessee’s 36 second half points and give the Vols a chance to tie it on the final possession of the game. In that final possession the Volunteers tried desperately to get one of their hot shooters an open look, but suffocating Razorback defense forced a Harris three-pointer from the corner that air-balled at the buzzer giving the Hogs the three-point victory. Harris led all scorers in the game with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
“I’m very proud of our guys today,” said Pelphrey. “Togetherness and hard work was how we won this game, but without the fans we had today, I don’t think we win this game.”
A much better second half shooting-wise for the Hogs saw the team shoot an even 25-for-50 from the field. Along with Johnson scoring in double-figures, Clarke finished with 15 and Powell finished with 14. Much of the reason for the Tennessee comeback was their ability to crash the boards in the second half. In just the final 20 minutes of play, the Volunteers won the rebounding battle 23-10.
It was a quick start for the Razorbacks in the first half as Powell sank the first two buckets of the game and gave the Hogs an early 4-0 lead. However, Tennessee would not let the early deficit keep them down as they would get the score back in their favor of 7-6 at the first media timeout. Even with the game being the first of conference play for both teams, the Hogs and Vols shot very efficiently from the floor. Both were above 50 percent for the majority of the first half.
Clarke got a small run going for the Razorbacks at the 9:08 mark after he drained his first three-pointer of the afternoon, which were also his first points of the game. That three tied the game at 15 and would be followed by another bucket by Powell, giving him eight points through 11 minutes of play.
The see-saw battle would continue for the remainder of the half as both teams could never get more than five points ahead of their opposition. Four lead changes and five ties would be the story of the first half, as good defensive play and efficient shooting kept the scoring at a minimum.
The Hogs would get their largest lead of the half after a monster dunk by Johnson to put his team up 24-19 with 4:54 to go, but a three-pointer by Trae Golden and a layup by Tobias Harris would tie the game at 27 with less than two minutes to play. The Vols and Hogs would trade a few free throws before the end of the half, but the Razorbacks would take a 30-29 into the locker room at halftime.
Clarke would lead all scorers with nine points at the half and was also 2-of-3 from behind the three-point line, while Powell would follow up closely behind with eight points and two rebounds. Harris would lead all Tennessee scorers with eight points and six rebounds, but the team struggled from three-point land as they were only 3-for-9.
The Razorback men’s basketball team will hit the road for the next conference contest as they will take on LSU in Baton Rouge, La. on Wednesday, January 12 at 7 p.m. That game will be televised on the SEC Network and ESPN3.com. For all information regarding the Razorback men’s basketball team, be sure to log on to ArkansasRazorbacks.com.