Arkansas may not be the prettiest or most dominant basketball college basketball team, but it keeps finding ways to continue its best start in 17 years.
Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls each scored 17 points and Anton Beard and Alandise Harris added 10 apiece as the Razorbacks downed Tennessee 69-64 Tuesday night before 12,753 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
Beard had all of his points in the first half of a game that allowed Arkansas (16-4, 5-2) - which had a few players battling the flu - to avenge an earlier loss this season at Tennessee.
“Of course we could play better,” Qualls said. “ I don’t feel like we’ve played our best basketball yet in conference. I’d rather us head in this direction than go in conference already and just go down. Every night it’s something new we’re battling with.”
One of the things on this night was an ill Jacorey Williams, who got sick headed to the bench - something that resulted in Beard having to change his jersey and a clean up of six players and fans.
“Guy threw up this game, just stay tuned for the next game,” Qualls added. “Never know. We’re always finding a way (to win) and that’s showing the maturity in our basketball team. Always find a way. Always scrap our way out of something.”
The win over the Vols (12-7, 4-3) was the Razorbacks’ third win in six days and kept them in a second-place tie in the SEC with Georgia and Texas A&M and a half-game ahead of LSU.
"I have been so focused on the next game I haven't even thought about that,” Anderson said of the six-day stretch. “I am more interested in us getting better. I thought through the course of the Alabama game and going to Missouri that we got better and tonight I thought we got better, too, against a team that was playing really, really well. Tennessee is a good basketball team.”
Anderson wants his team to play better, but is happy it has found a way to win three close games in a row - none decided by more than five points.
“I am happy with the win,” Anderson said. “I really am. My mentor (Nolan Richardson) used to say a raggedy ride is better than a smooth walk so it was one of those games.
“ But let's take nothing away from the defensive intensity from both teams,” Anderson added. “I really felt we got better from a defensive standpoint. To me one of the heroes going out was our bench. Anton Beard goes out and plays some great minutes for our basketball team, knocking shots down and loose balls and defending.”
Josh Richardson had 17 points, Robert Hubbs 15, Armani Moore 12 and Kevin Punter 10 for Tennessee, who led 37-35 at halftime.
“Let me start by saying like I said the lat time we played Arkansas, how much respect I have for Mike,” Tennessee head coach Donnie Tyndall said. “He does a great job. His team plays as hard as anybody in America. I thought both teams really, really competed tonight for 40 minutes.
“We thought if we could stay even with them on the glass we'd have a chance, and we thought if our assist to turnover ratio would be 1 to 1, we've have a chance,” Tyndall said. “We just turned it over a little bit too much But the defense is good.”
Portis' streak of five straight double-doubles came to an end, but he did have 17 points and 8 rebounds on the night.
"I love Bobby," Tyndall said. "He's got 17 and 8, but gosh, he impacts the game in so many other ways. If he doesn't block shots, he's challenging shots at the rim. He's another guy that's an all-league type player in my mind. He's long, he's athletic, he's a willing passer when he catches it. We double-teamed him and he was willing to kick it out. He's not a selfish guy. Just a very good talent and plays the right way."
Tyndall lauded the Razorback crowd as the best he had seen this season on the road, where the Vols were trying to win for the fourth straight time for the first time since 1982.
The crowd was unbelievable,” Tyndall continued. “This is loudest place we've been in all year. I thought our kids showed a lot of competitiveness, a lot of fight.”
Hubbs actually had a chance to tie it with a 3-pointer with five second left, but he missed and Qualls then nailed two free throws to ice the game.
“He (Hubbs) was the second option,” Tyndall said. “The first option we were going to dribble handoff and try to get Kevin on what we call a cover on the left corner to wing area, and if we didn't have it, we'd look out to the weakside, what we call the drift pass to Robert. Good pass, good shot. I'll let Robert have that shot every time. He'll make the next one.”
Richardson talked about the play.
"The play was to drive it and find Kevin (Punter) in the corner," Richardson said. "But the man guarding him didn't help. I was going to lay it in, but I saw people collapse. I saw Robert open in the corner. We got a good look."
Arkansas, who had 18 turnovers while forcing 16, shot 47.1 percent from the field (24-of-51), was 6-19 from 3-point range and 15-of-22 from the free throw line.
Tennessee ended up making 43.6 percent of its shots from the floor, was 5-of-14 from beyond the arc and 11-of-15 on its charity tosses.
The Razorbacks, who once trailed 19-9 on the boards out-rebounded the Volunteers 22-12 from that point on to end the game tied 31-31 rebounding.
"We talked about coming out with a sense of urgency and taking the fight to them in the second half and we did," Anderson said.
Tennessee returns home to host Auburn and former coach Bruce Pearl on Saturday.
"There are a lot of positives to take from it," Richardson said. "If we can play with these guys at their house, it's pretty much the toughest game anybody can play.”
Arkansas travels to face Florida on Saturday to try and win at a place it has not since 1995.
"That has nothing to do with us," Portis said. "That happened 20 years ago. I wasn’t born yet. I’m 19 so I don’t know anything about that. It’s just the past."
Qualls, part of the 300th win in Bud Walton Arena takes it as a challenge.
"Streaks are meant to be broken," Qualls said. " Next game. It’s the next game (on the schedule). We’re just going to come and try to work on the things we need to work on. Scout Florida. Go in there give it our best shot and everything is going to play out. We’re just going to play our brand of basketball. Like he said, it has nothing to do with us. We’re just going to come and try to make noise this year."
Arkansas 69, Tennessee 64
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