Regrouped Vols remain in hunt
Posted: Friday, March 11, 2011 5:52 pm
By: By CHARLES ODUM, AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — For a few scary minutes, Tennessee appeared to be on the verge of losing more than a big lead.
The Vols regrouped in the final minute to save the game — and their NCAA Tournament hopes.
Freshman Tobias Harris scored 20 points and Tennessee recovered after blowing a 16-point lead to beat Arkansas 74-68 on Thursday night in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Tourn.ament.
Tennessee (19-13) bolstered its NCAA Tournament case after losing six of its last nine games in the regular season.
The Vols were a modest 8-8 in the SEC but are No. 36 in the RPI.
“I know the more we win the better chances we have to be seeded and the better chances we have to advance in this championship,” said Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl.
Tennessee will play No. 12 Florida in the quarterfinals tonight.
Florida won two games against Tennessee in the regular season — one in overtime and the other by one point.
“They’re a great team,” said Tennessee’s Brian Williams, who said beating Florida “would mean a lot in the SEC and make a statement in the country as well.”
The Vols led by 16 at 68-52 before Arkansas (18-13) made an unlikely comeback, scoring 16 unanswered points to pull even at 68-68 with 2:08 remaining.
“I was very, very proud of those guys for the run they put together,” said Arkansas coach John Pelphrey. “We actually had a chance there on a couple possessions to take the lead, but we weren’t able to do that.
“Tennessee had some good defense and was able to outplay us there in the last minute or so to get the victory.”
Williams scored under the basket for Tennessee with 54 seconds remaining to end the run by the Razorbacks, who did not score again.
The Vols then forced a turnover by Julysses Nobles, and Harris hit two free throws after he was fouled by Nobles.
“They made some big shots, they made some great plays,” Pearl said. “I thought we missed some really good shots. We missed about three or four shots inside and got stripped a couple times. And so it happened fast, but it wasn’t like we weren’t getting the ball where we needed to get it.
“But we were able to withstand it and get a few stops.”
Rotnei Clarke had 18 points for Arkansas but missed two 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds. Delvon Johnson had 15 points and eight rebounds.
Melvin Goins had 12 points for the Vols, including two free throws in the final seconds to ice the game.
The Vols’ NCAA Tournament hopes may have been on the line, but they focused on revenge as their motivation.
“We owe them one!” Tennessee players yelled during their on-court huddle in the final seconds before the game.
The Razorbacks opened their SEC schedule with a 68-65 home win over Tennessee on Jan. 8, when Pearl was serving an eight-game SEC suspension for lying to investigators in an NCAA case.
Each team had players return after missing the last two games of the regular season with injuries.
Williams, a 6-foot-10 senior and Tennessee’s leading rebounder who had been out with a sore back, had nine points and eight rebounds. He made his first 3-pointer of the season.
Arkansas junior guard Jeff Peterson, who suffered a groin injury in a win at Auburn on Feb. 26, played only seven minutes and missed his only two shots.
Williams left with 4:15 remaining after he was poked in his right eye. He returned with 1:10 remaining and scored 16 seconds later to end the Razorbacks’ 16-0 run.
Mardracus Wade’s fast-break basket about 5 minutes into the game gave Arkansas a 12-8 lead. The Razorbacks then went about seven minutes without another field goal before Wade’s 3-pointer with 8:10 remaining.
Even with the long field-goal drought, Arkansas stayed close, trailing only 25-23 after two free throws by Michael Sanchez with 5:25 remaining in the half. Then Tennessee launched a 12-0 run to stretch its lead. Harris had seven points in the run that ended with Johnson’s basket for Arkansas with only seconds remaining in the half.
Harris had 16 points in the half.