ATLANTA – Even when Tennessee appeared on its way to a comfortable win, it still found a way to play another game down to the wire.
Fortunately for the Volunteers, this time it ended differently.
UT watched Arkansas erase a 16-point second-half in the span of about four minutes before outscoring the Razorbacks 6-0 in the final two minutes to win 74-68 on Thursday night in the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament at the Georgia Dome.
Tobias Harris led UT with 20 points, Melvin Goins added 12 and Brian Williams had nine points to go along with eight rebounds in his first game back since missing the Vols' final two regular-season games with a back injury.
Rotnei Clarke led Arkansas with 18 points. The Razorbacks shot 66 percent (14-of-21) in the second half. Delvon Johnson had 15 points and eight rebounds.
Steven Pearl’s driving layup gave UT (19-13) its largest lead (68-52) as the Vols blitzed Arkansas’ porous defense early in the second half.
But the Vols failed to put Arkansas away, and the Razorbacks roared back with a 16-0 run that included 3-pointers from Clarke and Julysses Nobles. Clarke’s free throws with 2:08 tied the game.
Arkansas (18-13) had a chance to take the lead after Bone missed a driving layup, but Johnson traveled. Williams answered on the end with 53 seconds left to put UT up 70-68, and Harris and Goins each made a pair of free throws to help the Vols escape.
After Arkansas scored four straight points to pull within a basket, the Vols ripped off the next 12, holding the Razorbacks scoreless for almost seven minutes.
Harris scored five of his 16 first-half points during the stretch on a three-point play and a putback, continuing his recent surge offensively. The freshman entered the tournament averaging 21 points in his previous two games.
UT’s defense also helped secure the big halftime lead, as the Vols held Arkansas to just 28 percent (seven of 25) in the half. The Razorbacks hit just two of their 13 3-point attempts, and leading scorers Rotnei Clarke and Marshawn Powell missed all eight of their combined shots.
Scotty Hopson, UT’s leading scorer, wasn’t as aggressive as he had been down the stretch of the regular season. He didn’t take a shot until 10 minutes into the game and finished the first half with more turnovers (three) than points (two).
Josh Bone started the second half in Hopson’s place, as the Vols tried to remedy slow starts to the second halves in each of their last two games. Hopson finished with eight points on nine shots. UT outscored Arkansas 44-24 in the pain and 20-7 on second-chance points thanks to 16 offensive rebounds.
The Vols had played nine SEC games that came down to the final few minutes of regulation, winning just twice. The Vols lost 68-65 at Arkansas to open league play in January.
UT will play SEC champion Florida in Friday night’s quarterfinals at 7:30.
More coverage online and in Friday's Times Free Press.
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 ...