Tennessee basketball holds off Arkansas: Three takeaways from Vols’ regular season finale win

during the final regular season game between Tennessee and Arkansas at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, March 5, 2022.Utark0305 0838
during the final regular season game between Tennessee and Arkansas at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, March 5, 2022.Utark0305 0838 /

Despite building a 24-point lead and being up by 21 at halftime, Tennessee basketball had to hold on to win its regular season finale, remain undefeated at home and avoid being swept by the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Vols won 78-74 to avenge a 58-48 loss to the Hogs from two weeks ago to clinch a No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament.

Rick Barnes’ team, ranked No. 13 in both polls, was up 67-49 with just under eight minutes to go. However, with just under a minute to go, they were only up 74-72. Arkansas used a 16-2 run to cut it to that point. The Hogs then got the ball only down 77-74 with 14 seconds left, but J.D. Notae missed a three, and Zakai Zeigler clinched it with a free throw.

UT finishes the regular season 23-7 and 14-4 in SEC play. Arkansas, ranked No. 14 in the AP Poll and No. 15 in the Coaches Poll, finishes 24-7 and 13-5 in SEC play. It was a proper sendoff for John Fulkerson on Senior Day in Knoxville. Both teams will play again next Friday in the SEC Tournament Quarterfinals. Here are three things we learned from Tennessee basketball’s win.

1. The offensive droughts are still a problem.

In typical fashion of an elite team coached by Barnes, the Vols are capable of just awful offense for long stretches of games. This time, it was the final six minutes, where they scored just seven points and had no field goals. During that stretch, they went 0-for-6 from the field with two turnovers, which nearly cost them the game.

To be fair, they had 17 turnovers all game, so the issue was just scoring. Now, yes, they got to the foul line, but they missed too many free throws late. In those final six minutes, they went 5-of-8 from the stripe, and a couple in the final minute gave Arkansas a chance to tie it up. Kennedy Chandler went 0-of-3 on free throws, and Zeigler went 3-of 6. That could’ve been a problem.

2. Elite three-point shooting won the game.

Although Tennessee basketball was awful in the final eight minutes, their three-point shooting before then built the lead. They went 12-of-18 from beyond the arc on the day, a complete turnaround from how things were during their game at Arkansas, and that’s why they won.

Chandler had an amazing game from outside, going 5-of-6 on three-pointers en route to 15 points. Santiago Vescovi went 3-of-4 from outside and also had 15 points. Josiah-Jordan James had 12 points and went 2-of-3 from outside, and Zeigler went 2-of-5 with 13 points. If those two went at least over 50 percent from the stripe, the Hogs never would’ve had a chance late.

3. Aggressive defense and unselfish play made up for the mistakes.

We mentioned the 17 turnovers in our first takeaway. Zeigler and Vescovi each had four, and Chandler and James each had two. However, Zeigler also had six assists. Vescovi had four, Chandler had three and James had two. As a team, UT had 17 assists, so while they had issues, even the worst offenders made up for it with unselfish play.

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They also helped make up for those things on defense. James had three steals, Vescovi had two and Zeigler had one. Meanwhile, interior defense was also aggressive, as Jonas Aidoo had three blocks and a steal. Vescovi and James also had blocks. Tennessee basketball held Arkansas to 23-of-62, under 40 percent, from the field. That helped them hold on.