KNOXVILLE — Tennessee’s loss at Arkansas in its Southeastern Conference opener this basketball season set a tone for the Volunteers’ league schedule.
They followed that same script — an early deficit, a comeback and letting the game slip away in the waning moments — six other times.
Tennessee is looking at another shot at the Razorbacks in the SEC tournament Thursday night in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome as an opportunity to set a different tone for its postseason push.
“It has to be,” freshman forward Tobias Harris said after Tuesday’s practice. “I think you’ll find out who really wants it on this team and who wants to win a national championship and get far in the tournament just by the way we play. It’s a must-win for us. The whole SEC tournament’s a must-win for us.
“You’ve got to think about it. I think we all know that whether we’re on the [NCAA tournament] bubble or not, we know what it’s a must-win for us to get some confidence.”
Arkansas (18-12, 7-9) shot 57 percent in the second half and 50 percent for the game in the 68-65 win over UT (18-13, 8-8) on Jan. 8. The Vols erased a 13-point deficit in the final eight minutes, but Harris missed a tying 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
“We want retribution for what happened earlier in the year,” said wing Cameron Tatum, who didn’t score in that loss. “We felt like we shouldn’t have lost that game. We should have never put ourselves in that position.
“We’re going out there with a different mindset. It’s a whole brand-new season all over again, just like we’re playing them in the first game of the SEC. We want to go out there and just attack, attack and just be the aggressor.”
Arkansas outscored the Vols 34-30 in the paint and scored 25 points off 18 UT turnovers. Guard Rotnei Clarke and forward Marshawn Powell — the Razorbacks’ top two scorers — combined for 29 points. Delvon Johnson, a 6-foot-9 forward, had 17 points and three blocks, and point guard Julysses Nobles gave UT fits with his penetration into the lane that created easy baskets.
But that game was two months ago, so any impact it might have Thursday night is limited.
“If we’d lost to them recently, maybe it’s a factor,” Vols coach Bruce Pearl said. “I think it’s so long ago I don’t think that necessarily makes any difference. It’s about matchups. There were some things that they did that really bothered us, so we’re going to have to make some adjustments.”
Tatum said the Vols are taking the approach of entering the postseason with a clean slate, and they aren’t placing limits on their aspirations.
“It’s just refocusing and looking at what we want to do and what we want to accomplish,” he said. “Early in the season we wanted to accomplish being the regular-season champions in the SEC, but now we have a chance to start all over and become SEC champions in this tourney. I think that this is a great opportunity for us, and if guys see it that way but take it one game at a time, I think that’s our goal and that’s what’d be good for us.”
Said guard Scotty Hopson: “We started the SEC season against Arkansas on a bad note, but now we look at like it’s the SEC tournament, records don’t matter no more, it is what it is as far as seeding is concerned. and we’re looking forward to winning this whole thing. We’ve got to start this off right this time. If we do everything we need to do as far as winning these games, we’ll be fine. That’s the bottom line.”
Hopson was voted to the All-SEC first team by league coaches. Harris was second-team All-SEC, and senior center Brian Williams was honored as sixth man of the year.
Point guard Melvin Goins missed Tuesday’s practice with a stomach bug. Williams, who returned to practice Monday after missing all of last week with a back injury, practiced in full Tuesday, though he’ll have to continue to monitor the injury.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...