FAYETTEVILLE — After getting thoroughly embarrassed in a 33-point road loss at Texas earlier this week, Arkansas' basketball team had a chance to either fold or resurrect itself against another orange-clad team on Saturday afternoon.
It did the latter with the help of a season-high 11,078 fans and a missed 3-pointer at the buzzer inside Bud Walton Arena.
Delvon Johnson had 17 points, Rotnei Clarke 15 and Marshawn Powell 14 as the Razorbacks (11-3, 1-0) downed Tennessee 68-65 in the SEC opener for both teams.
"I thought our guys showed incredible toughness," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "I think a lot of people were questioning what we were going to get after the other night. It was good to see them show some resiliency. Athletes need to have that, all of us in life need to have it was well.
Clarke echoed that sentiment about an Arkansas team that shot 50 percent from the field, nearly that from 3-point range (6 of 13), connected on 12-of-18 free throws and forced 18 turnovers and committed 14.
He had six rebounds to lead his team while Johnson, the nation's second-leading shot blocker, swatted away a trio.
"We tried real hard to put that Texas game in the past," Clarke said. "We wanted to move forward to this game and be prepared, and get focused. We still had confidence coming into this game and played well. Getting this win in huge for us, especially starting out SEC play at home."
As did the crowd, which Pelphrey and his players complimented.
"If we don't play in Bud Walton Arena, we don't win the game," Pelphrey said. "If our fans aren't the way they are and lift us up, we don't win the game. Our players deserve a lot of credit, but Razorback nation does as well. It's just truly special to play in here."
Julyess Nobles added 7 points and 8 assists for the Razorbacks, who ended a strong of five straight wins in SEC openers for the Tennessee (10-5, 0-1), who had won 10 of their last 11 league lid-lifters.
Tobias Harris had 21 points and 11 rebounds and Scotty Hopson 15 points for the Volunteers, who were coming in off a 104-84 home win over No. 22 Memphis in a game where it led by 36 points at one time.
Tennessee has wins this season over two teams that were rated in the top 7 nationally and jumped out to a 7-0 start before losing to Charleston, Charlotte, Oakland and USC.
"We knew how good Tennessee was coming in here, a very, very deep basketball team with tremendous size both in the frontcourt and the backcourt, a tremendous system – I have just got a lot of respect for those guys," Pelphrey said. "They are very, very good."
The visitors played without head coach Bruce Pearl, who began his eight-game SEC suspension on Saturday after committing NCAA violations and then lying to investigators about it.
Vols' associate head coach Tony Harris filled in for Pearl, who was in Fayetteville, but could not be in the arena and coach the team.
"Their (the Razorbacks) ingredient to winning basketball games is to pressure their opponents, to score 30 percent of their points off opponent turnovers," Jones said. "They did that today. We didn't do a good job of protecting the basketball like we would have liked. Their ball screen plays hurt us a little bit. A good basketball team with a collection of athletes that played above the rim this afternoon.
"I'm proud of our guys," Harris added. "They didn't quit. They came back from what I believe was an 11-point deficit…had an opportunity to send the game into overtime at the end. Pleased by their effort, but we can play better basketball and is something that we have to do on a consistent basis."
Jones said he expected Arkansas, who led 30-29 at halftime, to bounce back.
"We knew they'd bounce back," Jones said. "Texas is a good team. … They kind of shell-shocked Arkansas They knew this was the start of the SEC season."
The Razorbacks, playing what Pelphrey dubbed their best game of the season, raced out to a 57-44 lead on Jeff Peterson's lay up with 8:21 left in the game.
But Tennessee kept coming and got to within 67-65 on a dunk by John Fields with 22 seconds left.
Peterson hit the second of two free throws to push that margin 68-65 with 19 seconds showing.
After great initial defense by the Razorbacks, Harris got a wide open look from the corner when Michael Sanchez stayed in the paint, but came up empty.
"Mike came to me after the game and said did I make a mistake there?" Pelphrey remembered. "…It is going to be a great teaching point for us. There is absolutely zero reason in that circumstance – especially late in the clock – to go in there. Stay out there. He was correct (in that it was a mistake).
"So it was a little good fortune, but the ball bounces that way sometimes," Pelphrey added. "You need a stroke of good luck at times."
Arkansas will travel to LSU on Wednesday before hosting Alabama next Saturday at Bud Walton Arena.
"It's one loss, it's one win and the rest of the day will be very, very enjoyable," Pelphrey said. "We like winning. I am very, very happy for our guys, proud of their toughness and happy for the University of Arkansas. Now we've got a chance to go on the road and see what can happen. It won't get any easier."