FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Tennessee’s Bobby Maze lived up to his nickname in the clutch, as his 10-foot jumper with 5.4 seconds left proved to be “the solution’’ in the Vols’ 74-72 win over Arkansas on Wednesday night.
The Razorbacks had two shots to send the game into overtime after Maze’s basket, but Stefan Welsh missed on his drive to the basket and Michael Washington was closely guarded by Wayne Chism on a put-back attempt that missed at the buzzer.
“We’re obviously very fortunate to get out of here with a win,’’ UT coach Bruce Pearl said. “ The biggest difference in the game was our bench, where we out-scored them 19-2.’’
Thirteen of those points came from Maze, who continues to thrive in his role playing behind Josh Tabb at point guard.
“Coach (Pearl) has a lot of confidence in me, and he’s told me to get in the gym and get those extra shots in,’’ said Maze, who in 25 minutes of playing time was 5-of-7 shooting — 3 of 5 beyond the 3-point line. “I can’t tell you how good I feel shooting the ball.’’
Tennessee (14-7, 5-2 SEC) moved to a half-game behind Eastern Division leader Florida. Arkansas (13-7, 1-6) sent the crowd of 16,064 at Bud Walton Arena home disappointed.
Wayne Chism led the Vols with 22 points and nine rebounds, Smith scored 16 points, and J.P. Prince had 13 points and six assists.
Pearl said Prince’s assists — he also had nine in the win over Florida — are a byproduct of teams playing zone. Prince, at 6-foot-7 and with point guard skills — can see and pass over the top of those zones.
Welsh led the Razorbacks with 22 points, Courtney Fortson had 19 points and six assists, and Washington had 18 points and 11 rebounds.
A game of big runs gave way to a see-saw affair that featured 15 ties or lead changes in the final 14 minutes.
Arkansas held a 35-33 lead at the end of the topsy-turvy first half.
The Vols jumped out to an 8-1 lead, quieting the crowd.
But then the Razorbacks went on a 16-0 run, taking advantage of four UT turnovers to go up 17-8.
It was UT’s turn. The Vols reeled off a 12-0 run, accentuated with Scotty Hopson’s 360-dunk in the open court to put UT up 20-17.
Arkansas scored the next eight points, but the Vols hit four 3-pointers in the final four minutes of the half — two by Maze, two by Cameron Tatum — before Washington’s lay-in right before the buzzer gave Razorbacks the halftime edge.
Maze said the team huddled at halftime.
“We were all saying this is a game we need to win,’’ said Maze, who was tabbed “The Solution” to UT’s point guard woes during the summer. “We wanted to get on that airplane to head home tonight with smiles on our faces.’’
UT opened the second half on a 9-0 run to match its largest lead of the game, going up 42-35 at the 17:05 mark on a Smith 3-pointer.
Arkansas rallied with an 11-2 run to reclaim the lead at 46-44 on a Welsh drive with 14:18 left.
The give-and-take followed, with the teams swapping the lead and the momentum as the Arkansas fans roared.
“It feels great anytime you can hit a game-winning shot,’’ Maze said. “That’s why I came to Tennessee.’’
The Vols return to action at 1 p.m. Saturday at Auburn, which along with Ole Miss are the only two places in the SEC that Pearl has yet to win.