FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It was a day filled with misses for the Tennessee men’s basketball team, including a potential game-tying 3-point shot at the buzzer.
The Vols opened the SEC season Saturday while missing head coach Bruce Pearl, who was sitting out the first game of an eight-game league suspension as a result of an ongoing NCAA investigation into the program.
The UT players said they also were missing the necessary intensity at the start of the game and missed assignments throughout the action.
The result was a 68-65 Arkansas victory over Tennessee before a rowdy crowd of 12,044 at Bud Walton Arena.
Associate head coach Tony Jones assumed the sideline duties while Pearl watched the game at the team hotel, barred from having any contact with the team until one hour after the final buzzer.
UT freshman Tobias Harris led the Vols with 21 points and 11 rebounds, but Harris misfired on an open 3-point attempt from the corner just before the buzzer sounded.
“I didn’t know how much time was left on the clock, and I kind of rushed it,’’ said Harris, whose shot sailed over the rim. “It wasn’t my regular shot.’’
“We needed to play the whole game like we did those last seven minutes,’’ Harris said. “(Arkansas) came out strong and you could tell they had something to prove.’’
Center Delvon Johnson led the Razorbacks (11-3, 1-0) with 17 points, Rotnei Clarke had 15 and Marshawn Powell finished with 14.
Arkansas held a 30-29 lead at halftime, but Goins said the Vols had already damaged their hopes of winning by not taking better advantage of an early five-point lead.
“I don’t think it (Pearl’s suspension) was much of a distraction,’’ Goins said. “I just think they got some confidence early, and you can’t give an SEC team that kind of confidence in their own gym.
“I don’t know why we didn’t come out with that much energy, but it’s something that has to change.’’
Arkansas ran its record to 10-0 in its home arena after many wondered how the Razorbacks would respond after getting blown out Tuesday at No. 12 Texas, 79-46.
Arkansas answered that question by jumping to a 4-0 lead on two inside baskets by Powell and went on to outscore the Vols in the paint 34-30.
It was a surprising advantage; UT out-rebounded Arkansas 38-24, including 18 on the offensive glass.
“The second and multiple opportunities we didn’t hit really hurt us,’’ said Jones, who has been Pearl’s top assistant the past 10 seasons at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and UT. “We failed to finalize around the basket; it has been an Achilles’ heel for our big guys this year.’’
So have missed free throws.
Jeronne Maymon and Brian Williams missed the front end of one-and-one situations within a one-minute span as the Razorbacks took their largest lead of the game, 57-44, on a Jeff Peterson layup.
Arkansas’ high ball screens proved effective, with Julysses Nobles dishing out most of his eight assists after penetrating.
“There was some miscommunication on the ball screens,” Goins said.
But the Vols’ defense clamped down late, holding the Razorbacks without a field goal over the final 3:27.
A Hopson 3-pointer cut the lead to 66-63 with one minute remaining before Johnson split a pair of free throws with 30.6 seconds left to boost the lead back to four.
John Fields dunked with 21.9 seconds left to pull UT within 67-65, and when Peterson hit only one of two free throws with 19.3 seconds left to make it 68-65, the Vols had a window of opportunity.
Goins dribbled around frantically, probing the lane before finding Harris open in the corner.
“I’d like to get it to Scotty or Cameron (Tatum), but they weren’t open,’’ Goins said, “I probed until we had a good look.’’
Harris started the season 7-of-10 shooting the 3-pointer, but over the past eight games he’s 1-of-18 shooting beyond the arc.
“We left a lot of points out there on the court, and you can’t do that in an SEC road game,’’ Jones said. “To our guys’ credit, we came back and had an opportunity to make a play and send it to overtime.
“But to not come out with the right intensity level and ready to play, that’s something we’ll address.’’
UT returns to action at 9 p.m. Tuesday (TV: ESPN) at Thompson-Boling Arena against Florida (12-3, 1-0), which beat Ole Miss (12-4, 0-1) on Saturday night, 77-71.