FAYETTEVILLE – The Arkansas Razorbacks rediscovered reserve forward Vance Jackson and their rebounding and shooting prowess.
However too few trips to the free line, turnovers and Tennessee turned them away, 79-74 Wednesday night at the Volunteers’ Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.
Coach Rick Barnes’ nationally No. 9 AP ranked Vols, upset last Saturday at home by Alabama, improved to 8-1 overall, 2-1 in the SEC.
Coach Eric Musselman’s once 9-0 Razorbacks fall to 9-2 overall, 1-2 in the SEC with successive SEC defeats to Missouri last Saturday at Walton Arena, where they’ll play Georgia in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. SEC game on the SEC Network.
Abysmal rebounding, outboarded, 51-36, and miserable shooting 19 of 71, unraveled Arkansas against Mizzou, but the Razorbacks only committed nine turnovers to Mizzou’s 21 and were 23 of 34 on free throws in the 81-68 loss they never led.
Wednesday the Razorbacks, led, 40-33 at half, and for the game outrebounded Tennessee, 37-26, shot 29 of 55 from the field but committed 20 turnovers to Tennessee’s five. And while 8 of 10 from the free throw line, that was dwarfed by Tennessee’s 20 of 26.
Outscored 19-4 for points off turnovers and 20-8 on free throws, proved too much, Musselman said even as the Hogs came so close.
Arkansas only trailed 71-69 when a Jackson three rimmed out and Connor Vanover’s follow didn’t fall with with 1:01 after a Jalen Tate steal.
Tate’s trey with 24 seconds left brought Arkansas to within one, 75-74.
Arkansas forced Tennessee taking two timeouts trying to inbound, but eventually had to foul. Vols Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James made 4 of 4 unanswered free throws sealing Arkansas’ fate.
Jackson, the 6-10 touted grad transfer forward via UConn and the University of New Mexico previously not living up to his billing in increasingly limited opportunities, got his big chance off the bench joining 6-10 debut starting freshman forward Jaylin Williams replacing injury idled for several weeks starting forward Justin Smith.
Former Fort Smith Northside star Williams responded hitting 3 of 3 shots in 13 minutes.
Jackson starred, nearly double-doubling with 14 points and nine rebounds supplementing sixth-man guard JD Notae’s game-leading 19 points while Tate scored 15 with six assists, but also six turnovers, and Vanover scored 12 with seven boards.
Jackson hit 3 of 6 treys and appeared so close for that fourth one until rimming out at the last.
“We played hard and gave ourselves a chance to win,” Musselman said. “A shot didn’t go down and we ended up in the lost column.
I thought Vance gave us a huge lift both offensively and on the backboard. I thought Vance had a great look and was trying to get it out ad then Connor had the ball on an offensive rebound. We played hard but we didn’t win. The turnovers and Tennessee’s free throws attempted in the second half, that was the difference in the ballgame.”
Jackson said his last three seemed destined to score.
“Man, it felt good,” Jackson said. “I probably should have stayed in it a little bit. I kind of leaned back because I thought it was good. It just rolled out on me. But it’s not going to stop me from shooting. I’m going to keep shooting.”
He looks forward to playing Georgia.
“All I needed was just the opportunity, and it’s up from here,” Jackson said.
Other than Tate’s turnovers, Musselman praised his point guard and combo guard Notae and Vanover, too, up against Tennessee esteemed senior center John Fulkerson, 16 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
Apparently motivated by not starting for the first time this season, Victor Bailey, Tennessee’s transfer guard via Oregon, and James led the Vols scoring 17 points each while usual sixth-man Keon Johnson scored 14 as a starter.
Tennessee led only once in the first half that Arkansas led, 40-33.
The Razorbacks closed the half with Vanover blocking Jadon Springer’s shot on one end with five seconds left and Notate driving to the other end for a buzzer-beating layup.
The Razorbacks dominated the first-half boards, 23-10 yet were outscored 10-0 off turnovers committing 11 first-half miscues to Tennessee’s two.
Tennessee improved on the second-half boards while Arkansas continued turning it over against the Vols’ renowned sticky defense.
Was it more on Arkansas mistakes or just good Tennessee defense?
“I think both,” Musselman said. “Obviously it’s been well documented that they lead the nation in a lot of defensive categories. I was really, really happy with our field goal percentage, with our shot selection. That’s was addressed on how poorly we were offensively against Missouri. So I think we took a step forward.”
Except where he wanted it most.
“Razorback fans don’t want to hear that,” Musselman said. “Obviously we lost the game. So we’ve got to just keep getting better.”