But as it turned out, stout defense and a stellar shooting night from Santiago Vescovi was all the Vols needed as they cruised to an easy win over the Razorbacks in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee’s defense dispatched Mason Jones, the SEC’s leading scorer, with ease. He finished with just nine points on 1-of-10 shooting. Jimmy Whitt Jr. finished the night as the Razorbacks’ top scorer with 19 points of his own.
Vescovi led the way for Tennessee with 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-4 from downtown, and 5-of-6 from the charity stripe.
It wasn’t just Vescovi and the defense, though. The entire offense played pretty well throughout the entire night, evidenced by 82 points on 51 percent shooting. The Vols had four other players score at least 10 points.
Things didn’t start off so well for the Vols as Jalen Johnson turned it over on the first possession and Desi Sills drained a 3 on the other side to give the Razorbacks a 3-0 lead. Fortunately, Jordan Bowden hit one from the top of the key on the next possession to tie the game up.
Sloppy play followed over the next minute or so until Bowden broke the tie with a jumper. Good defense and an assist from Vescovi to John Fulkerson gave the Vols a 7-3 lead, but Reggie Chaney made a layup to bring Arkansas back within two points with 16:45 left in the first half.
Tennessee maintained a four-point lead over the next five minutes or so, but it was only a 10-6 lead. Neither team was playing well. Both teams were a combined 1-of-6 after starting 5-of-9 during the first 3:15 of the game. Turnovers were an issue for both teams, too. Arkansas had eight and Tennessee had six. That’s simple math.
Some shots started to fall for Tennessee, which allowed Rick Barnes’ group to go on an 8-0 run and build a 16-6 lead. The Razorbacks also managed to not make a single bucket for about 7:45. I’m serious. Arkansas didn’t make a shot for almost eight minutes. The lone point was a made free throw from earlier in the half.
Jimmy Whitt Jr. ended the misery for the Razorbacks, but Tennessee continued to pour it on. Vescovi led the way with eight points as he and the offense scored 11 minutes over a two-minute span to put the Vols ahead, 28-13 with 6:22 left in the first half.
Arkansas was just trying too hard and it was showing. At this point in the game, the Razorbacks had more combined turnovers and fouls (20) than they did shot attempts (18).
Tennessee’s defense was not letting Arkansas get anything done in the paint. The Vols’ lead eventually grew to 19 as they went into halftime up, 40-23.
Jones had just seven points on 1-of-9 shooting. His lone bucket was a three-point shot earlier in the game. The Vols were doing an excellent job of rallying to him whenever he received the ball and the rest of the team couldn’t compensate. Jones still led the team in scoring despite the low output and the end result was a season-low 23 first-half points to go along with 32 percent shooting.
Vescovi led the Vols with 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting, including 2-of-3 from the perimeter, but the Vols were getting it done on the inside, too. They outscored the Razorbacks 14-4 in the paint during the first 20:00 of the game.
Arkansas also committed a myriad of fouls, which could spell trouble in the second half. Right now, it was all Tennessee, but if Arkansas could clean up its act a bit, it could possibly give Tennessee some trouble in the second half.
Arkansas came out and made its first bucket of the second half, but he Vols continued to dunk on the Razorbacks - in a figural and literal sense - as Jalen Johnson picked off a pass at mid-court and jammed it home to match Tennessee’s largest lead of the night. The Vols led, 44-25, with 18:07 remaining in the game.
The Razorbacks were able to cut Tennessee’s lead down to 13, but eventually fell flat on offense again and it wasn’t long before Arkansas was in the middle of another scoring drought.
In the meantime, Tennessee was busy building its biggest lead of the game. The score was now 55-34 with 13:05 left in the game. At this point, it had been five minutes since Arkansas’s last made bucket.
Tennessee’s lead continued to grow. The highest it reached was 27 points. The worst part for the Razorbacks was that their scoring drought continued to grow, too. It looked the misery was finally over as Ethan Henderson went up for an easy dunk, but Fulkerson shut him down with a major block to prevent the bucket.
Arkansas’ second-half drought lasted longer than the first-half drought. The Razorbacks went 8:38 without a bucket, which pushed the total game time without a made shot to 16:22.
That’s certainly not the recipe for success in the SEC.
Or college basketball, in general.
Needless to say, Tennessee made an example of the Razorbacks throughout the rest of the game. Arkansas was able to cut the lead to 15 at one point, but it never got any closer than that in the 82-61 rout.
Tennessee will travel to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks for its next matchup. The game is scheduled for Saturday, February 15. Tip off is set for 6PM EST.