Let’s take a quick look at Five Things from Tennessee’s come-from-behind, 81-74 win over Arkansas on Wednesday night in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee senior All-SEC guard Jordan McRae (News Sentinel photo)
Tennessee (12-6, 3-2 SEC) trailed by eight points midway through the second half before rallying down the stretch to overcome Arkansas (12-6, 1-4), which has struggled mightily on the road the past few years.
WELCOME BACK, MAMBA
Tennessee’s Jordan McRae wasn’t exactly in a huge funk coming into Wednesday’s game, but he’d been far from his best the past couple of weeks. And he started Wednesday’s game 2-of-8 from the floor.
But when the Vols needed Orange Mamba to be Orange Mamba again, that’s what he was.
The SEC Player of the Year candidate scored a season-high 34 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field, 4-of-8 shooting from 3-point range and 12-of-14 shooting from the free-throw line.
Most importantly, though, McRae was great when it mattered. He scored Tennessee’s final 14 points, and Arkansas scored just six points during that stretch.
And the final margin of the game: Eight points.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson (KNS photo)
That’s what stars are supposed to do in those situations, especially on their home floors.
ARKANSAS WILL ARKANSAS ON THE ROAD
Most teams struggle on the road, at least compared to the way they play at home.
But Arkansas is an extreme case of this, and it has been since Coach Mike Anderson arrived three seasons ago.
Arkansas is now 2-21 on the road under Anderson.
Credit Tennessee for doing what it had to do to win that game, but all the Vols had to do was make enough plays for Arkansas to be Arkansas down the stretch. As soon as the Vols started making plays in the final minutes, Arkansas went Full Arkansas.
Vols' Jarnell Stokes (KNS photo)
THE SOFTER SIDE OF STOKES
Tennessee All-SEC junior forward Jarnell Stokes didn’t follow the best performance of his career with another great effort. He wasn’t even good, especially by the standards everyone — especially him — has set for him.
After collecting 20 points and 15 rebounds at Kentucky, Stokes made some headlines Tuesday when saying the Vols should dominate the glass against an Arkansas team that was quick but didn’t have great size. Stokes’ words were twisted by a few reporters, but that doesn’t change the point: He put Arkansas on the spot. And Arkansas responded in a big way.
Tennessee was out-rebounded for much of Wednesday’s game, and the Vols needed a strong finish to end with a 42-37 edge on the glass.
Stokes was consistently harassed by Arkansas’ impressive set of scrappy, wing-sized athletes on the block, and he finished the game with just seven points (on 2-of-7 shooting), six rebounds and four turnovers in 32 minutes.
It wasn’t the response Stokes and everyone else in orange hoped to see.
But ... Tennessee won the game.
Vols' Josh Richardson (KNS photo)
JOSH RICHARDSON WAS THERE WHEN IT MATTERED
Josh Richardson, Tennessee’s versatile glue guy, didn’t have a particularly strong performance Wednesday night. The junior guard scored 10 points added two assists, two blocked shots and one steal, but he also had a game-high five turnovers in 34 minutes and made a few uncharacteristically poor plays.
In the final moments, though, Richardson was himself.
Richardson tied the game at 63-all on a big 3-pointer with 8 minutes, 16 seconds left, and he made a couple of just-as-big plays on defense after that.
Many will disagree with this assessment, and that’s fine, but from this vantage point, Richardson is Tennessee’s most important player. When he plays (and scores) the way he’s capable of playing (and scoring), the Vols are a much, much, much different team.
And when the Vols needed Richardson to dig himself out of a funk and finish strong, that’s exactly what he did.
Credit junior guard Armani Moore for helping keep the Vols afloat during Richardson’s struggles, too. Moore is finally starting to get back into the rotation, and his energy and athleticism gives the Vols a nice, change-of-pace look in stretches.
Vols' Jeronne Maymon (KNS photo)
FREE-THROW SHOOTING PUT, KEPT VOLS IN FRONT
Tennessee got out-rebounded by Arkansas — albeit by a narrow margin — in the first half, and the Razorbacks had an 11-0 edge in paint points and 8-4 edge in fast-break points at the break.
Why were the Vols in front, then?
Simple. Free throws.
Tennessee was 15-of-17 (88.2 percent) from the stripe in the first half. Arkansas was 3-of-6 (50 percent) at that point. A little home-cooking? Perhaps. But welcome to the SEC. That happens around these parts.
Arkansas closed the free-throw gap early in the second half, but that gap widened when the Razorbacks had to play hack-a-Vol in the final minutes.
Senior point guard Antonio Barton had a couple of bad misses late in the second half, but those were the exception.
Tennessee finished Wednesday’s game 30-of-38 (78.9 percent) from the stripe, compared to Arkansas’ 11-of-17 (64.7 percent).
McRae did his job, going 12-of-14 from the line. And the much maligned Maymon — whose two final-minute misses helped doomed the Vols to defeat against Texas A&M — was 9-of-10 from the stripe.
[i]Contact Wes Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or