KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl hoped his players would start strong against Arkansas after upsetting Kentucky.
Instead, it took a technical foul on Pearl to fire up the 16th-ranked Volunteers and their fans in an 80-73 win over Arkansas on Wednesday night.
``I was pleased to win the game, but I was hoping to build on how we played Saturday - and we did not,' Pearl said. ``We didn't play basketball like you need to play basketball in March.'
Every time Tennessee (22-7, 10-5 Southeastern Conference) looked poised to finish the Razorbacks off, Arkansas (14-16, 7-8) managed another run to keep the game close.
With 14:53 to go in second half, Tennessee's Cameron Tatum was called for a charge. Pearl was charged with the technical for arguing the foul, and the Vols broke open a close game with a 10-0 run immediately after.
Bobby Maze capped off the run with a long pass between two defenders to J.P. Prince, who dunked it for a 61-48 lead with 11:26 left.
``The crowd was more into it than I've ever seen them into it (after the technical),' Maze said. ``Every possession down, they were yelling and screaming. I didn't even know that many people in that arena knew some of those chants they were chanting.'
The Razorbacks would not get closer than six points after that. Courtney Fortson led Arkansas with 21 points, but shot just 6-of-17.
``I think they came out with a lot of emotion,' Fortson said. ``We played pretty hard. They just came out with the victory. It's hard to lose any game. We just got to go back and get better.'
The win clinches the No. 3 seed in the East Division for Tennessee in the SEC tournament, while Arkansas was still battling with Mississippi for the No. 2 seed in the West and a first round bye.
Scotty Hopson led Tennessee with 15 points. Seniors Maze, Prince, and Wayne Chism, all finished in double figures on their final night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols shot 54.5 percent for the game, but the Razorbacks stayed in the game thanks in large part to 17 Tennessee turnovers.
``We kept giving them Christmas presents, and it's not even Christmas,' Chism said.
Maze hit two 3-pointers to help Tennessee open up the second half on a 10-2 run and take a 49-38 lead with 17:14 left. But the Vols again let Arkansas back in the game.
``March won't last very long if we play like that,' Pearl said. ``This could have been a letdown. It wasn't a letdown. We were ready to play, but I expected more. That play doesn't win the SEC tournament. That play doesn't win a first round NCAA tournament game.'
The Vols only led 39-36 at halftime despite shooting 57.7 percent from the floor to the Razorbacks' 39.4 percent.
``We competed and had some chances to really challenge down the stretch,' Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. ``We just did not make our shots.'
Tennessee took an early 17-8 lead after Hopson punctuated a 9-0 run with a steal and reverse dunk, but Arkansas used several 3-pointers over the next few minutes to tie the game at 24 with 6:19 before halftime.
Stefan Welsh made a 3-pointer with 4 minutes left in the first half to give the Razorbacks a 31-30 lead, prompting Pearl to call a timeout.
Pearl said he wanted to see the same intensity from the Vols after they upset then-No. 2 Kentucky 74-65.
``I'm raising the expectation at this point,' Pearl said. ``The games we've won, the games we've lost, I'm fine with every one of them. I'm not OK with the basketball I saw tonight from Tennessee.'
Chism, the Vols' all-time leader in games played, is the only member of this senior class to be at Tennessee all four years. UT is 98-36 during his career. He finished with 12 points and six rebounds.
Prince also added 12 for the Vols.
The Associated Press News Service
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