3 Observations: Vols Advance to SEC Finals with 84-66 Win

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    Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

    From the first bucket of the game, Tennessee never looked back.

    The last time Arkansas and Tennessee played, the Vols led nearly wire-to-wire, but the Razorbacks roared back late in the second half to tie it up at the end of regulation. Then Arkansas ended up winning 95-93 in overtime.

    This time, there was no collapse from the Vols. Tennessee led from start to finish, and it was never really close.

    Tennessee defeated Arkansas 84-66 to advance to the SEC Tournament Finals for the first time since 2009. And they’ll be taking on an old rival to try and win their first tournament title since 1979.

    Here are our three biggest takeaways from the Vols’ huge win.

    Blazing Start

    Tennessee played arguably their best half of basketball all season in the first half against Arkansas in this semifinal match-up. The Vols shot an incredible 76 percent from the field and had six blocks against the Razorbacks. The Vols scored 48 points in the first half after only scoring 62 points total in the entire game against Mississippi State in the quarterfinals.

    Arkansas’s potent offense was held to just 29 points and 38.5 percent shooting in the first half after they dumped 80 points on Florida in their quarterfinal match-up on Friday.

    Tennessee used that impressive first half to cruise their way to victory in the second half. The Vols weren’t nearly as crisp in the second half on offense, but the defense was still stout. The Vols shot just 37.5 percent in the second half, but they did enough from the free throw line to hold on. Tennessee was 14-of-16 from the free throw line in the second half and finished 17-of-20 for the game from the line.

    And that was enough for Tennessee to advance.

    Bone Loves Playing Arkansas

    The last time Tennessee played Arkansas this season, Jordan Bone had one of the best games of his career. And he nearly topped that performance on Saturday in the semifinal.

    When the Razorbacks and Vols played to start their SEC schedule earlier this season, Bone went off for 21 points, six rebounds, and five assists. On Saturday, he put up a similar line and shot lights out. Bone made his first seven shots of the game and was on fire in the first half. He finished the game with 19 points, four assists, and two rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting including 3-of-4 from three.

    Bone wasn’t alone, however. He got help from a few other Vols as well.

    Tennessee had five players score in double figures in the game. Bone led the way, but he was aided by 16 points from Admiral Schofield — who also added seven rebounds and two assists — and a trio of Vols scoring 12 points apiece. Grant Williams, Kyle Alexander, and James Daniel III all had 12 points. Williams had five rebounds and four assists as well, and Alexander added seven boards.

    This season, Bone totaled 40 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists against Arkansas. In the Vols’ first game, Arkansas came back and won in overtime. This time, Tennessee emerged victorious.

    Can the Drought End?

    With the victory over Arkansas, the Vols advance to their first SEC Tournament Final since 2009. Tennessee hasn’t won the SEC Tournament title since 1979, and they’ll have to face their biggest rival, Kentucky, in order to try and break that drought.

    The Vols have already beaten the Wildcats twice this season. Tennessee hasn’t beaten Kentucky three times in the same season since, ironically, 1979. They’ll have a chance to end several streaks on Sunday when the two teams tip-off at 1 PM Eastern for the championship game.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.