Last year in the SEC Tournament, Tennessee and Arkansas played a wild and entertaining game on a wild and entertaining weekend with tornadoes aplenty and a change in venue. Down the stretch, there were five lead changes in the last three minutes, and when JaJuan Smith hit a layup with :23 to play to put the Vols up 91-90, Arkansas answered with an improbable Steven Hill turnaround, and then an even more improbable Chris Lofton miss gave the victory to the Hogs. They made the last shot and made Tennessee's best player miss, and they took the win.
Tonight, Tennessee and Arkansas didn't quite get the entertaining bit right until the very end...but then they made up for it in a hurry.
Coming back from a timeout with exactly 2:00 on the clock, the Vols had a 68-66 lead and Arkansas had the ball. The next seven possessions unfolded like this:
- Michael Washington drives and scores, 68-68
- JP Prince hits Tyler Smith underneath for two, 70-68 Vols
- Courtney Fortson drives into contact and scores, 70-70
- Prince comes from behind the arc to tip in a Wayne Chism miss, 72-70 Vols
- Arkansas calls timeout, then Fortson scores inbetween three bodies in the paint, 72-72 with :11 left
- Bobby Maze hits a pullup jumper, 74-72 Vols with :5.4 left
- Stefan Welsh - who scored 22 points on the night - missed off the front rim, the tip was no good...and the buzzer sounded
Tennessee made the last shot, then made Arkansas' best player (on this night) miss...and the Vols take the win.
It was wild and frantic to the finish, and Arkansas falls to 1-6 in SEC play...but I'll take it, and I'll take four more like it over the next two weeks as the Vols continue to have opportunities to pad their resume and stay atop the SEC East leaderboard against lesser conference competition.
Some other notes from the game...
- Bobby Maze was huge in the first half with 11 points, and then silent offensively until the final shot. He didn't hesitate to take it...and since he made it, you'll get no complaints from me (by the way, was this the first ever "MONEY!" from Bert on a two point basket?). But the rest of the night belonged to the guys inside; it was great to see Tennessee's three best players step up and take over. Tyler Smith puts up 16 points the way you expect him to every night. JP Prince was a revelation in the second half, finishing with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists. And isn't it time we include Wayne Chism at the front of the list of the best players in the SEC? 22 points (7 for 7 at the free throw line), 9 rebounds...and hey, only two fouls. Kentucky continues to be frustrated by an inability to find offense outside of their two best players; whether the Vols get it from Prince, Maze, Scotty Hopson or a combination of all three, it's nice to know the options have presented themselves in several different ways now.
- Speaking of Scotty Hopson, how about that 360 dunk eh? Those were his only two points.
- It looked like Stefan Welsh was well on his way to becoming the latest to go career high against the Vols...but in the last six minutes, he passed the offensive torch to Courtney Fortson. Welsh finishes with 22 and Fortson with 19...and the defensive guard play issues just will not go away.
- Look, we'd all feel better if we weren't going to the wire quite so much. And the schedule continues to be kind: the Vols are at Auburn on Saturday, who lost at Ole Miss by 19 tonight to fall to 2-5 in conference. And then Georgia rolls in next Wednesday, who lost by 18 at home to LSU tonight and is winless in SEC play at 0-7. But as this team keeps growing forward, the only thing that truly matters right now is wins and losses. Tonight was one down of what should be four to go; if Tennessee keeps winning the games they should win, they're going to be in very very good shape in the SEC East race (which they currently lead). Maybe we'll make things easier on ourselves next time, maybe not.
But just keep winning, and things tend to take care of themselves.