Tennessee got back on track Wednesday with a 79-74 win over Arkansas after another slow start.
The win pushes Tennessee to 8-1 on the season and 2-1 in the SEC. Arkansas falls to 9-2 and 1-2 in the SEC.
After a loss to Alabama on Saturday in which Tennessee played an uncharacteristically bad game of basketball. Tennessee decided to switch up its starting lineup against the Razorbacks.
While the main core of Tennessee’s starting rotation stayed the same. Freshman Keon Johnson made his first start as a Vol in place of Victor Bailey.
“We thought about starting Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer, ” Rick Barnes said. “But Jaden only had one day prep due to his injury. We could keep changing the lineup and we're going to keep searching until we find the right role for everybody.”
Bailey would be one of the Vols’ only offensive sparks in the first half as he scored nine points off the bench and shot 60% from the field and went three of four from the free-throw line.
Bailey would get help on offense from Josiah Jordan James who was once again the do it all guy for Tennessee in the first half.
James had 10 points, shooting 50% from the field and 40% from the three-point line in the first half. He would also chip in three rebounds, one assist and one steal.
The play of Bailey and James wouldn’t be enough in the first half, however, as like Alabama, Arkansas was explosive offensively against the Tennessee defense.
Arkansas shot 57% from the field in the first half and 45% from behind the three-point line.
Two of the Razorbacks leading the way on offense were Jalen Tate and Connor Vanover.
Tate had eight points on 80% shooting from the field along with three rebounds and three assists.
The 7-foot-3 posed immense problems for Tennessee as he scored seven points and five rebounds along with a block.
Arkansas would dominate the backboard in the first half out rebounding Tennessee 23-10.
Tennessee turned the ball over just twice and was able to force 11 turnovers in the first half scoring 10 points off those turnovers which would keep the score at a manageable 40-33 Arkansas lead at halftime.
Coming out of halftime Tennessee looked to have a return to form from John Fulkerson.
“The message was for young guys to get John Fulkerson or Yves Pons the ball,” Barnes said of the halftime message.
Fulkerson exploded for seven points in the first few minutes and helped tie the game at 42 at the 15:26 mark of the second half.
Fulkerson would finish with 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks. Fulkerson showed the talent that made him one of the most feared post players in the SEC last season.
Bailey added in some timely triples to the offensive effort and helped give Tennessee some offensive momentum in the second half. He finished the game with 17 points.
James would also continue his strong play in the second half with strong defense and rebounding that would help sustain Tennessee’s play. He finished with 17 points, nine points and three steals. His 17 points were a career-high, unseating his previous of 16 points at Kentucky last year.
“Josiah was terrific from start to finish, ” Barnes said. “He was the one guy you can tell was locked in all night.”
The Razorbacks finished with four players in doubles figures and the offensive play of J.D. Notae and Vance Jackson would keep them alive.
Notae led the Razorbacks in scoring and would finish with 19 points and shot 63% from the field for the game while also shooting 50% from the three-point line.
Jackson would finish with 14 points while shooting 50% from the three-point line but with just under a minute left he would miss an open three-pointer to take the lead.
Johnson would be able to get to the free-throw line for Tennessee and make six free throws to push the lead to four points but a late Tate three-pointer would bring the Tennessee lead to 75-74 with just 15 seconds left.
“He’s put a lot of time into free-throw shooting, ” Barnes on Johnson’s free throws. “It was good to see.”
Key free throws from Santiago Vescovi and a defensive stop by James followed by free throws of his own would finish the game off and give Tennessee a 79-74 win.
“I think that the second half was a reflection of our team coming together and playing as a team,” John Fulkerson said.
Tennessee will be back in action Saturday when it travels to Texas A&M for a 2 pm E.T. tipoff on ESPN2.