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5 Observations from UT’s 74-69 Win Over Arkansas

Robert Hubbs-1-4

Tennessee came out with a much crisper effort on Tuesday night after an embarrassing home loss to Alabama on Saturday. The Vols led by as many as 16 midway through the second half against No. 19 Arkansas and looked primed to pull off a comfortable win over the Razorbacks (13-3, 2-1 SEC) in front of 13,366 fans in Thompson-Boling Arena.

But some late errors, primarily at the free-throw line, made it very interesting at the end. Tennessee (10-5, 2-1 SEC) hit just 53.8% of its free throws in the contest and allowed Arkansas to creep back in the game, even giving the Razorbacks a chance to tie it with three free-throw attempts with five seconds remaining. Anton Beard, who had just previously hit a huge 3-pointer to pull Arkansas closer, missed all three free throws and Armani Moore hit two on the other end to seal the big win for Tennessee.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Huge bounce-back performance after Alabama loss

There are certainly some things to sort through from this game, but don’t miss the big picture. The Vols put together a fantastic bounce-back performance after what was a dreadful offensive showing in a 56-38 loss to Alabama in Knoxville on Saturday. Tennessee almost doubled its offensive output on Tuesday, putting 74 points on the board, and much of the positive momentum that was built up before the Alabama meltdown seemed to be restored as a modest, though enthusiastic, Thompson-Boling Arena crowd came to life in the second half. A Tennessee loss would’ve moved the Vols to 1-2 in SEC play with a trip to Missouri on the horizon. It’s still early, but 2-1 in conference with a win over what Donnie Tyndall described as possibly the second-most talented team the Vols have played this year (behind possibly Kansas) sounds much better to UT right now.

2. Free throws and late errors almost cost Tennessee 

As big as the win was, there were some very nerve-racking moments for the Vols down the stretch, and much of that had to do with failures at the free-throw line. The Vols finished just 14-of-26 (54%) from the line and at one point were just 3-of-12. That almost cost Tennessee this game. Devon Baulkman missed two free throws with 26 seconds remaining, giving Arkansas the opportunity to hit a 3-pointer on the other end to cut UT’s lead to one point with 15 seconds remaining. Tennessee also had a gaffe when it fouled Anton Beard in what the officials deemed the act of shooting with five seconds remaining to put Arkansas on the line for three free throws and a chance to tie. Tyndall took responsibility for that, saying he meant to have them foul closer to the half-court line, but he also showed some skepticism that Arkansas was intending to take a shot there. You can be the judge:

3. Hubbs steps up big in rare start

Sophomore Robert Hubbs got just his third start of the season and he responded with a career-high total of 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Especially after the disappointing performance against Alabama, the Vols needed some scorers to step up to help Josh Richardson carry the load. They got just that in Hubbs on Tuesday night. “Robert got to the rim probably more than he has all season,” said Tyndall. “He didn’t settle for floaters and jump shots, but he drove the ball and got to the rim. That was huge for us.” If Hubbs can develop into a consistent second or third option for Tennessee, that could be a huge development as SEC play unfolds.

4. Punter goes cold, but helps preserve the win in the end

After being one of Tennessee’s more consistent scoring threats earlier in the season, guard Kevin Punter has cooled significantly over the past two games. The junior college transfer was 0-of-7 against Alabama on Saturday and just 1-of-8 from the field in the win over Arkansas on Tuesday. But with the lead collapsing, Punter still wanted the ball and knocked down four clutch free throws in the final minute to help UT hang on.”Kevin might be in a little bit of a shooting slump,” Tyndall said. “But we don’t base anything on shots made. You look at his stats tonight, had six rebounds, a steal, defended the ball well, so guys have to do other things when balls aren’t going in the basket. I think Kev’s a tough kid. He’s a New York kid with some swagger and I asked him if he wanted to shoot the free throws and he said yes. He’s a confident kid.”

5. Offense finds more rhythm 

After completely stalling down the stretch against Alabama, Tennessee found some rhythm offensively against Arkansas on Tuesday. A lot went into that. The Vols got to the rim more, spread the ball around and used their defense – specifically 11 steals – to help set up some of the offense. Tyndall’s system is at its best when the offense and defense works hand-in-hand to get easy buckets and then get reset for more stops and turnovers that continue the positive cycle. It was telling that Tennessee finished with 40 points in the paint against an Arkansas team that had some solid rim defenders inside. A team that will never be a juggernaut on offense will have to continue to replicate this pattern going forward to put enough points on the board to have a strong run in conference play.

Final Stats:

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