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5 Observations: Tennessee 82, Arkansas 61

(Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

Knoxville is an absolute nightmare for Arkansas, and that proved to be true again on Tuesday.

Tennessee (14-10, 6-5 SEC) handed the Razorbacks (16-8, 4-7) a 21-point loss in Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday night, winning by a score of 82-61. The loss dropped Arkansas’ all-time record in Knoxville to just 4-13, and UT has now won three-straight games against the Hogs.

The Vols were dominant from start to finish on the evening. Tennessee led by 17 at halftime, and Arkansas never got it to within more than 15 points in the second half. UT led by 20-plus points for the bulk of the second half.

Arkansas’ previous seven losses on the season had come by a combined 31 points. Their biggest losses were seven-point losses to both Mississippi State and Western Kentucky. Tennessee blew them out by 21.

Tuesday was Tennessee’s most impressive win of the season by far. Arkansas came into the game projected as a nine-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and the Vols just had their way with them. Tennessee tied their season-high in points with 82, and Arkansas set a new season-low in total points with 61.

Five different Vols scored in double figures, and UT was led by freshman point guard Santiago Vescovi with 20 points. Jordan Bowden scored 16 points, John Fulkerson totaled 14 points, Yves Pons had 12, and Olivier Nkamhoua chipped in 10 points, too.

Tennessee held Mason Jones, the SEC’s leading scorer heading into the night, to just nine points on 1-of-10 shooting overall. Jimmy Whitt Jr. led the way for Arkansas, scoring 19 points. But 11 of those 19 points came at the free throw line for Whitt, as he was just 4-of-13 from the field.

Here are our biggest takeaways from the Vols’ dominating victory over Arkansas.

The Freshman Phenom

Point guard Santiago Vescovi has barely been on UT’s campus for a month, but he’s flashed immense potential in his short time as a Vol. That ability was on full display once again on Tuesday night against Arkansas.

The freshman put together arguably his best all-around game in a Tennessee uniform against the Razorbacks, setting his career-high with 20 points on 3-of-4 shooting from three and 6-of-10 shooting overall. He also made five of his six free throws and dished out a career-high eight assists with just three turnovers.

Vescovi’s defense has been his weakness so far, but he was actually improved there against the Hogs as well. Overall, Vescovi finished the night with a plus-15 in the plus/minus box.

Bench Production

Tennessee’s lack of quality minutes from their bench has been an issue over the last month, but the Vols got some good production from their young backups on Tuesday.

The Vols’ bench barely outscored the Razorbacks’ bench 16-15, and Olivier Nkamhoua in particular was effective on offense for UT off the bench. The freshman forward drew several fouls and finished with 10 points and six rebounds, tossing out two assists as well. He also blocked a shot.

On defense, Davonte Gaines was a difference-maker. He scored six points on offense, with four of his six points coming from the free throw line, but he got three steals and blocked a shot and was a nuisance for Mason Jones, the SEC’s leading scorer. Gaines played an effective 26 minutes off the bench.

Jalen Johnson is normally the Vols’ sixth man off the bench, but he earned his first career start as a Vol on Tuesday night. He was productive as well, totaling four points, three rebounds, an assist, two blocks, and two steals before fouling out.

Arky in Disarray

Arkansas was all out of sorts on Tuesday night. Whether it was sloppy play on offense, fouling on defense, or just poor decision-making overall, the Razorbacks could never get anything going.

The SEC’s leading scorer, Mason Jones, started the night off the bench, and that seemed to affect him (as did UT’s defense). Jones had one of his worst shooting performances of the season, scoring just nine points and going 1-of-10 from the field. Six of Jones’ nine points came from the free throw line.

Jones’ night was a microcosm of the Hogs’ night as a whole.

The Razorbacks almost had more turnovers (14) than made field goals (15) as a team. They committed 26 fouls, and they shot an abysmal 30.6  percent from the floor. Tennessee totaled seven steals on the night and held Arkansas to just 49 field goal attempts, their third-fewest in a game all year.

It wasn’t just a bad night for Arkansas; it was their worst night of the season.

The Hogs had season-lows in points, made field goals, field goal percentage, and assists on Tuesday night. Tennessee’s defense deserves a lot of credit for that, but Arkansas also just played poorly.

Arkansas got frustrated early on by Tennessee, and it took them out of their game. Because of that, they never recovered, and UT dominated.

Dominate that Paint

Tennessee absolutely had their way with Arkansas in the post. The Razorbacks didn’t have much of a post presence outside of Reggie Chaney, and the Vols took advantage.

UT outscored Arkansas 40-16 in the paint, and the Vols blocked six shots on defense. Tennessee won the rebounding battle pretty handily as well, out-rebounding the Hogs 40-29.

John Fulkerson wasn’t fully healthy, but he still managed to make a difference on offense, scoring 14 points and grabbing eight rebounds. As mentioned above, freshman Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10 points and also got six rebounds. Jordan Bowden, Yves Pons, and Jalen Johnson also scored points down low for Tennessee, too.

The Vols have struggled to win the battle in the post this season, but they absolutely manhandled Arkansas on Tuesday night.

Keeping Postseason Hopes Alive

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tennessee’s hopes of making the NCAA Tournament were on life support, and the pulse was getting pretty weak. Tonight’s win keeps those slim chances of making the Big Dance alive.

Tennessee’s win over Arkansas is the Vols’ first victory over a team ranked inside the top 40 of the Ken Pomeroy rankings this season. The Vols were 0-7 against top-40 KenPom teams entering Tuesday night’s game, and the Razorbacks were ranked No. 35 in those ratings.

The victory not only pushed the Vols back above .500 in conference play, but it’s easily UT’s best win on their tournament resume as of right now.

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