KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Sophomore Courtney Fortson scored 21 points for the University of Arkansas men’s basketball team on Wednesday night in Knoxville, Tenn., but the Razorbacks could not upset the 16th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers on their home court, dropping an 80-73 game.
Arkansas (14-16, 7-8 SEC) returns to Bud Walton Arena on Saturday with a chance to finish second in the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division against the Ole Miss Rebels. Tennessee (22-7, 10-5 SEC) defends its home course on senior day in a game that was closer than the final score indicated.
"I thought that we competed very well in the basketball game," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "We knew coming into the game that Tennessee could score a large number of points off transition plays. That hurt us. I thought that we had some good opportunities on the offensive side and we just didn’t convert. You have to convert in this league to win on the road."
The first minute-and-a-half of the contest saw several turnovers and no one even came close to hitting the rim. Mike Washington began the scoring by hitting one of two free throws and scored Arkansas’ first eight points of the game on the interior, on jump shots and at the free throw line. Tennessee would get a majority of their points in the interior as crisp passing on cuts to the lane produced big points early for the Vols. Arkansas was again plagued with a tough shooting night on the road early as it hit just 23 percent midway through the period while Tennessee’s shots in the paint led it to 61 percent at the same mark and a nine-point lead.
The Razorbacks went on a 6-0 run just past the eight-minute media timeout and cut the Tennessee lead to just three points. Moments later, Arkansas would tie the game at 24 on a Jemal Farmer jumper in the lane and took its first lead of the game at the four-minute mark on a Stef Welsh open three-pointer from the left side. Welsh’s shot came on the heels of an intentional foul call on Tennessee against Washington who hit one of two from the free throw line. The first half would end with Arkansas trailing by three to the 16th-ranked team in the nation.
The second half began similarly to the first with Tennessee hitting a high percentage of its shots and jumping out with 10 of the first 12 points of the period. The Vols would make a run as the second half approached the midway point and take an 11-point lead, 59-48. Tennessee continued its hot shooting to help build its cushion as it fed off a crowd of more than 20,000 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The second half mirrored the first as Tennessee’s shooting cooled off midway through and Arkansas was able to come back from an 11-point deficit and make it a six-point game with 7:38 to play. The Volunteers used their athleticism over the final minutes of the game to get easy baskets in transition and hold off Arkansas’ charge. Each time Tennessee began to pull away, Arkansas would hit a pair of shots to bring the Razorbacks back.
Rotnei Clarke finished the game with two three-point baskets giving him 97 for the year. His total places him in third place alone on Arkansas’ all-time list, five behind Scotty Thurman’s all-time school record of 102 which he hit during the 1995 season. Washington’s 13 points move him to five behind Jerry Carlton on Arkansas’ all-time scoring chart.
Along with Fortson and Washington, Farmer scored 11 points for the Razorbacks off the bench for the Razorbacks. Marshawn Powell led all players in rebounds with 10, one off his career high.
The Razorbacks complete the regular season on Saturday, March 6, at Bud Walton Arena against the Ole Miss Rebels for an opportunity for a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament and second place in the SEC’s Western Division. Tip time for Saturday’s contest is scheduled for 3 p.m.