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No. 13 Tennessee Defeats No. 14 Arkansas, Finishing Undefeated At Home And Grabbing The #2 Seed In SEC

KNOXVILLE — It was an afternoon to remember for Tennessee fans, who checkered out the arena and provided the home-court advantage that Vols have fed off of all season. On a day where the Vols recognized their seniors, including John Fulkerson, the team finished 16-0 at home, defeating Arkansas 74-70.

The crowd gave John Fulkerson a standing ovation as he finished a pregame speech, thanking Tennessee fans for a wonderful six years in Knoxville. It was all Vols from that point, especially in the first half. After going on a 12-2 run in the opening minutes of the first half, the Vols were shooting  7-8 from behind the arc, causing multiple problems for the Razorbacks. This was the start Tennessee was looking for, but Arkansas would hang around in the second half.

Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Heading into the final regular season game of the season, Tennessee was looking to open it up on the offensive side, something they struggled with earlier in the week at Georgia. But Arkansas presented a different type of challenge on the defensive end, thanks to the play of Jaylin Williams and JD Notae. These two teams were familiar with each other after the Razorbacks took the first meeting in Fayetteville, a battle that didn’t produce a lot of points.

Rick Barnes pointed out that his team has to stop giving opponents lifelines, especially when it’s coming from their own turnovers.

“It seems like it’s been forever since we played Arkansas, and that was just a few weeks ago. The season runs together so much, and you are just thinking day to day with it. If you go back and look at how we started the season we had to go to LSU and Alabama, two teams that were picked at the top of the conference. Auburn has put together a great season and Arkansas has done a terrific job. I can tell you—it has been hard.

“I think we have been able to learn a lot from it, and I think we’ll learn from today, we need too, because now, we are in tournament play,” Barnes added. “If you have letups and keep throwing lifelines at the wrong times—it is your season. So I hope our guys can realize that we have had a nice regular season, and they should be complimented for that.”

The Vols led by 24 points at one point in this game, heading to the locker room leading 50-29. The play of Kennedy Chandler and Santiago Vescovi, along with the Vols hitting shots around the basket, gave this team all the confidence in the world.

Tennessee led by 19 midway through the second half, but the Hogs cut it to 73-68 with 2:46 remaining. This came after Tennessee started the second half with four turnovers and bad shots, then deciding to get hot again from the perimeter, but then letting the Hogs keep it close towards the end. The Vols started doing things that had plagued them at times during the regular season, which was getting a bit too comfortable on defense.

Rick Barnes said his team got comfortable in the second half, not finishing off the Razorbacks when they had the chance. But he knew Arkansas would come out in the second half ready to go.

“I told our guys we’re going to learn from it. You can’t have a lead and keep throwing lifelines out there. What we did to them in the first half they turned around and did to us in the second half.”

This exactly what will cause Tennessee problems in the SEC and NCAA Tournament, going over 5:50 without a made field goal. Now, add on the fact that the Vols were missing some key free-throws and you have the recipe for a close game or even a loss. Yes, the Razorbacks are a really good basketball team, but when you have someone against the ropes, you go for the knockout. This has been a problem for the Vols all season and they don’t have much time to fix the problem.

Barnes added postgame that his team got too sloppy with the basketball, leading to Arkansas taking advantage.

“Turnovers. Turnovers. They caused some of them and we did too. We had some shot turnovers too.”

JD Notae finished the game with 20 points for the Razorbacks, capping off a fantastic regular season.

After Zakai Zeigler hit 1 of 2 FT’s. Arkansas had the ball with 14.8 seconds left and a chance to tie it.  A bad shot attempt by JD Notae kept the Vols up by three points and Zeigler added one more free-throw to cap off the 74-70 win.

Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

The Vols finished the season undefeated at home, but decided to give the fans a close game to wrap up the regular season. Tennessee was led by Kennedy Chandler and Santiago Vescovi, who both had 15 points on the day, while Josiah-Jordan James added 12 of his own. The key takeaway from this afternoon is the win, but also the six minute scoring drought by the Vols.

Rick Barnes has a team that is capable of making a run in the tournament, but not with these type of scoring droughts. It was proven in the first half how good this team can be when they take good shots, given the 21 point lead. But when this team gets sloppy with the ball or starts to get out-hustled on the boards, things start turning the other direction, quickly.

As the final buzzer rang out, John Fulkerson ran over to the Tennessee cheerleaders and grabbed the huge Power-T flag and waved it around on the court, continuing to prove how much pride he has in his school. He didn’t have the best night scoring or even on defense, but Fulkerson has been the glue that’s kept this team together over the years and deserved one more senior day to cap things off in Knoxville.

“I definitely got all the tears out last year and I am proud of myself for that. I am glad that I got to enjoy this and did not get too emotional. Being out there with my family and in front of a sold-out TBA was an unreal atmosphere, also the fact that we are undefeated at home, how much Vol Nation and our fans give us energy and momentum.”

Now the attention turns toward the SEC Tournament, where the Vols will be the #2 seed and play on Friday in Tampa. They earned that seeding by finding different ways to win all season long, including today. All of the momentum Arkansas had late in the game and Tennessee still comes away with the win. It might not always be pretty, but this team has found some ugly ways to win games, which they might need come March Madness.

This team gave fans in Knoxville a lot to cheer for this season, which wasn’t lost on Rick Barnes after the game as he got on the microphone and thanked the sold-out crowd. Now the real work begins outside of the confines of its home arena, where the Vols have a chance to do something special, as long as the first half Tennessee Vols show up.

Buckle up, March Madness is here.

Written by Trey Wallace

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