FAYETTEVILLE - Leading just once, and just by a point, during the eventual 73-73 regulation 40 minutes and nearly losing an 11-point lead during the final 47 seconds of overtime, the Arkansas Razorbacks overcame then clung to a 95-93 victory over the 19th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers in Saturday afternoon’s SEC game at Walton Arena.
It was the SEC opener for both teams and attended by a packed house, 18,696, willing the Razorbacks to victory nearly as much as did Razorbacks senior guards Daryl Macon, a career high 33 points, Jaylen Barford, 28 points, Anton Beard, 10 points, and freshman power forward Daniel Gafford, 15 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots.
“To the 19,000 or 20,000 that showed up tonight, thank you,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “They just propel our guys to a different level.”
The Razorbacks, now 11-2, 1-0 in the SEC going into Tuesday night’s SEC game at Mississippi State, needed the highest level their aforementioned Saturday standouts and senior forward Arlando Cook off the late regulation/overtime bench could reach in first overcoming then fending off Coach Rick Barnes’ Vols, now 9-3, 0-1 in the SEC and next the SEC host to the Auburn Tigers Tuesday night in Knoxville.
Other than after starting down, 5-0, rallying to tie it 26-26 on a Macon three, the Razorbacks, turning it over nine times, gave their crowd little to cheer about during the first half that Tennessee led, 38-31.
Tennessee was first-half paced by starting forward Admiral Schofield’s 3 of 4 treys and James Daniels’ 2 of 2 treys off the bench.
Macon’s 13 first-half points, he would score another 13 during the 5-minute overtime, kept the Hogs within hailing distance at intermission as young Gafford of El Dorado absorbed a first-half baptism knocked around by the Vols’ shorter but wide-bodied frontline in his SEC debut.
Gafford asserted himself in the second half and proceeded with help from his teammates to get Tennessee forwards Grant Williams, 12 points and six rebounds, and Schofield, 16 points and seven rebounds, and 6-11 center Kyle Alexander, four points and six rebounds, into foul trouble. Williams, zero first-half fouls, fouled out during the second half of regulation and the others in overtime.
Tennessee 60-percent 3-point shooter Jordan Bowden, never launching a three against a shadowing Razorbacks defense, also fouled out.
Point guard Jordan Bone, 21 points, six rebounds and five assists against one turnover, led the Vols with Daniels, 17 points next.
Reserve guard LaMonte Turner scored eight of his 10 points in the overtime, including two treys helping the Vols rally from down 89-78 with 47 seconds left in OT to be down just 93-91 on his 3-pointer with eight seconds left.
“Tennessee, they are ranked for a reason,” Anderson said. “I think they are probably a top 10 team to tell you the truth. They’ve got so many weapons on that team. I looked up and we were up 11 points at one time in overtime and before you know out they cut it to two points.
Macon hit two free throws to ice it it up four with seven seconds left but Chris Darrington, drawing a foul on Beard with one second left, hit two free throws to cut it to 95-93 before Cook corralled the final inbounds as time expired.
Though both teams had played tough nonconference schedules, each initially found the other’s defense hard to handle.
Both teams committed nine first-half turnovers.
The Razorbacks turned that around with just three miscues for the final 25 minutes of regulation and overtime.
“I just thought the nerves were going early on,” Anderson said. “And Tennessee, to their credit, they're a good defensive team, and they were making shots and I thought it energized their defense. It seemed like we only got one shot in the first half. But in the second half I thought it was a little different.”
Macon said, “We were just rushing in the first half, trying to make the home run play. We just had to settle down and go out there and play ball.”
Tennessee committed but five turnovers for the final 25 minutes but they came at critical times, Barnes said, noting the Razorbacks were down, 70-61 with 3:53 left in regulation but cut it to 70-67 at 3:03 on a Gafford bucket off a Barford steal and assist and took its lone first-half lead 73-72 on a Macon to Gafford dunk with 44 seconds left.
Bone tied, 73-73 hitting 1 of 2 free throws with 14 seconds left.
Arkansas played for the last shot with Macon missing a 3-point try before time expired.
Tennessee led twice in OT, 76-75 and 78-77, before successive Macon drives, a Barford bucket and treys by Macon and Beard had the Hogs up and apparently running away, 89-78 with 47 seconds left.
The Vols came roaring back but ultimately what Macon and Barford accomplished was slightly too much for Tennessee to match.
“Jaylen Barford, I thought he was the guy who kind of kick-started some things for us and of course Daryl was his partner in crime,” Anderson said. “And a guy who has been around four years, Anton Beard. He’s the tough guy, the calming force out there on the floor. I thought Daniel got his first taste of SEC basketball. Our bench (outscored 33-5 by Tennessee’s bench) wasn’t what it had been but I thought Cook (inserted after starting forward Dustin Thomas fouled out) made a difference. I’m proud of our guys.”
Macon and Barford, both flirting after least season with declaring early for the NBA, were proud of the crowd.
“ I came back for this,” Macon said. “A sold out crowd at 12 noon., that’s crazy.”