ATLANTA – Depth was regarded as Tennessee’s greatest attribute entering the SEC basketball tournament. But drawing Arkansas in the first round qualified as a close second midway through the second half at the Georgia Dome.
By then, UT has managed a 16-point lead, and Arkansas looked every bit as bad as the dregs of the conference (See Auburn, LSU and South Carolina for details).
What happened next couldn’t have surprised anyone who has been following UT through an up-and-down season. The Vols crammed their ups and downs into the same game in a 74-68 victory over the Razorbacks on Thursday night.
Fortunately for the Vols, the Hogs reverted to their first-half form after tying the game 68-all. Their last four possessions produced two turnovers, an air-ball, and a line-drive shot that caromed off the backboard with such force it could have rendered someone unconscious if they had been in the line of fire.
But tournament play is about advancing, not aesthetics. So the how’s and why’s of the victory were probably forgotten by the time the Vols left the arena.
They now have another shot at Florida, whom they played agonizingly close in two regular-season losses. Never mind the Gators regular-season supremacy in the SEC. The Vols shouldn’t suffer from a lack of confidence after losing in overtime in Knoxville and by one point in Gainesville.
Playing in the first round could be another advantage for the Vols. They at least have gotten past the first-game jitters, which mounted considerably during Arkansas second-half run.
UT’s depth should factor in as well.
Coach Bruce Pearl had used 11 players before the 10-minute mark of the first half against Arkansas. And the way the Razorbacks were stumbling around, it’s not as though the Vols had to work up a sweat – until the final minutes.
In fact, it might have been almost too easy for the Vols initially.
--Tobias Harris had 16 points in his first 15 minutes.
--Center Brian Williams nonchalantly tossed in about a 27-footer with such certainty you would have thought it was part of his offensive repertoire.
-- Steven Pearl, who usually focuses on disrupting opponents’ offenses, scored three times on drives to the basket in the second half.
--Backup guard Josh Bone caused problems for Arkansas near the basket as well as on the perimeter
Given the Razorbacks’ 66.7 percent shooting in the second half, the Vols needed every bit of that. They will need that and more against the Gators, the tournament’s No. 1 seed.
While you can’t argue that Florida has a more formidable starting lineup, it doesn’t have UT’s depth. The Vols got 31 points from their bench against Arkansas.
High-scorer Tobias Harris on Vols' win over Arkansas
Bone’s performance might have been the most noteworthy, especially since starter Cameron Tatum is playing so poorly. Tatum made only one of eight field-goal attempts and had three turnovers against the Razorbacks. In the last six games, he is 8-for-38 from the field.
Bone, who played three more minutes than Tatum in the first-round game, made three of six shots and scored eight points. He also had two rebounds, two steals and didn’t commit a turnover in 23 minutes.
Using a lot of players will matter against Florida. Using the right players will matter even more.