Tennessee freshman guard Chris Lofton showed the University of Arkansas coaching staff - who like tons of other major schools decided against offering him a scholarship - just how good he is on Saturday.
Lofton tossed in a career-high 30 points and hit 7 3-pointers, but Razorback star Ronnie Brewer was even more sensational with a career-tying 23 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists.
Brewer also got more help from his friends, especially when Eric Feguson denied Lofton a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the end and the Volunteers were left with a off-balance runner from C.J. Watson that came up empty.
That left Arkansas with a 70-68 win Saturday afternoon before a raucous crowd of 19,084 at Bud Walton Arena.
"That was a very important win for our team," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "I love the way our guys hung in there and handled a little bit of adversity and got the defensive stop that we sorely needed at the end. I thought our crowd was exceptional today and there was a lot of energy and they picked us up when we were dragging a little bit in the early part of that second half."
Olu Famutimi added 14 points and 7 rebounds and freshman forward Charles Thomas had 9 points his best performance in awhile for the Razorbacks (18-9, 6-8), who ended a two-game losing skid with the loss.
"I am really proud of these guys in the locker room because they have been dealing with a lot of adversity," Heath said. "They came to play and had a little fire and a lot of energy and stuck together out there on the court during the adverse times."
Arkansas shot 47 percent both overall and from 3-point range and outrebounded Tennessee (38-32), but hit just 55.6 percent of its free throw attempts and committed 14 turnovers.
"It was another close loss for us on the road," Tennessee head coach Buzz Peterson said. "I think that makes five losses by a total of 15 points."
Lofton, 9 of 20 overall shooting and 7 of 14 from 3-point range, came into the game leading the league in 3-point shooting at 49 percent.
"He's just a great young man who we really got lucky with," Peterson said. "The play we ran at the end. we had already been successful on two of the four times we had called it. But Chris got the ball out too high because of Arkansas' great defense and it all just blew up from there. I thought we played great and very hard, but they are a great young team with a great future ahead of them."
The former Kentucky prep standout whose only scholarship offers were from Tennessee and Arkansas State, certainly left an impressive on the crowds and his opponents.
"Chris Lofton was phenomenal," Heath said. "He is a terrific outside shooter. We were on him at times and he still made shots."
Arkansas had a nine-point early in the second half, but also found themselves down at six point after a call that seem to rile up the Razorbacks' players and fans.
The UA actually trailed 61-56 with 7:45 left, a deficit that occurred after a technical was called on a rare Ferguson dunk.
Referee Rick Crawford ruled that Ferguson, whose steal and slam had put Arkansas ahead 56-55, hung on the rim too long.
Lofton made four straight free throws before the team's left that end of the floor and then Major Wingate's basket with 7:45 left put the Razorbacks behind by five but also incited the crowd.
Arkansas responded with seven straight points, taking a 62-61 lead when Famutimi slammed at the 6:34 mark.
"A little bit of growing up," Heath called his team's response to adversity. "You can put your head down ... or you can get fired up. I think at that point the team said we are going to come together and really raise it up a notch."
Although a Lofton 3-pointer gave Tennessee (12-15, 5-9) back the lead, Famutimi hit a pair of free throws and then Ferguson drilled a 3-pointer to surge Arkansas ahead 67-64 with 4:01 remaining.
A 12-footer by Thomas gave Arkansas a 69-66 lead, but Brandon Crump cut it to one with exactly a minute left.
Dontell Jefferson's free throw with 23.3 seconds left to make it 70-68, but missed the second and gave Tennesssee a chance to either tie it with a two or win it with a three.
Lofton could not shake Ferguson and then Watson missed to end the contest.
"The play was for me to look for Brandon in there first, but to take the shot if I couldn't find him," Lofton said. "But they had him covered and then didn't let me have a look and I had to get it off to C.J."
The Razorbacks started 6-4 juco transfer point guard Dontell Jefferson (who had five of his team's first 7 points) and 6-9, 230-pound junior Rashard Sullivan and both played well early on as the home team jumped out to a 12-7 lead.
"We definitely got off to a great start," Heath said. "Rashard gave us some toughness and muscle we needed out there on the court and he had a nice prescence with six rebounds, five in the first half.
" The point guard position is so important out there on the court and hasn't been as consistent as I would like it to be," Heath added. "Dontell really added a ballhandler into the lineup and I think he responded well."
Arkansas scored the last seven points before intermission to take 37-32 halftime lead and quickly moved that to 40-32 on Sullivan's old-fashioned 3-point play with 19:12 remaining.
The Razorbacks pushed the margin to 43-34 soon afterwards when Famutimi buried a 3-pointer, but Tennessee then went on a 14-2 run to get back into the game.
"I was really proud of our kids because this is as tough a place to play as there is in the country," Peterson said. "We had hoped to slow the game down, but after that run they sped it up on us again."
Arkansas will host Mississippi State Tuesday night at 6:05 p.m. on ESPN.
Arkansas 70, Tennessee 68
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