The Arkansas junior guard had just made his most spectacular play of the season by picking C.J. Watson's pocket and taking his entire 6-foot-1 frame to the rim for a two-handed slam dunk and a 56-55 Razorbacks lead with 8:40 to play.While the Bud Walton Arena crowd of 19,084 roared, Ferguson was whistled for a technical after doing a near chin-up on the rim before coming back to earth.
Ferguson's expression went from joy to despair in a heartbeat as the Vols took the lead right back on two Chris Lofton technical free throws and stretched it to 61-56 just 70 seconds later.
As it turned out, Ferguson's technical turned out to be the biggest play of the day.
Make that the second biggest.
Ferguson's toe-to-toe defense against Lofton in the final 17.7 seconds forced the Vols freshman who'd already scored a career-high 30 points to pass off and Watson's desperation one-hander went wide right to give Arkansas a much-needed 70-68 win on Saturday.
"I got to give a hand to my teammates because the last series we stepped up," said Arkansas sophomore Ronnie Brewer. "It was our best defensive stance of the whole season."
With two regular season games remaining against Mississippi State on Tuesday in Fayetteville and at Auburn next Saturday, the Razorbacks (18-9, 6-8 Southeastern Conference) kept their faint NCAA Tournament hopes alive by rallying after Ferguson's technical to hand Tennessee (12-15, 5-9) its sixth loss by five or fewer points.
After losing three SEC games against Alabama, LSU and Kentucky by a combined seven points in the first half of the conference season, the Hogs have now won three straight close games against Ole Miss, LSU and Tennessee by a combined six.
"We needed that one," said Arkansas coach Stan Heath. "I was really excited for our players. They dug in deep.
"It was a great team effort. Every time I think everybody says, ‘They might fold,' it shows a lot of character they keep fighting."
Brewer tied his career-high for the third time this season with 23 points and posted his second double-double of the season with 11 rebounds.
Fellow soph Olu Famutimi added 14 and 7 rebounds, including two follow-up slams off Brewer misses, and freshman power forward Charles Thomas snapped a four-game scoreless streak with 9 points and 3 rebounds.
Arkansas outrebounded Tennessee 38-32, shot 52 percent in the second half and 47 for the game (26 of 55) while the Vols were 26 of 62 (41.9 percent) and 7 of 20 (35 percent) from outside.
Heath shook up his starting lineup by adding junior power forward Rashard Sullivan and junior college transfer Dontell Jefferson at point guard.
Jefferson had 6 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and 3 turnovers in 22 minutes. Sullivan chipped in 3 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks in 25 minutes.
"We had a great crowd tonight and I'm sure everyone here would like to thank them," Jefferson said. "We wanted to get this win for coach Heath because we know we didn't play that well at Vanderbilt (in a 79-65 loss Feb. 19) and we wanted to make sure he knew we're not getting down or giving up."
Arkansas got down and gave up after Sullivan was called for a questionable intentional foul with the Razorbacks trailing 55-51 at Vanderbilt.
The ensuing five-point possession by Vandy sent Arkansas spiraling to a loss, but Saturday they took the lead right back with a 6-0 run in 69 seconds.
"It should have been a momentum play, but it turned against us," said Sullivan, who scored 3 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and made 3 blocks. "But we bounced back from it really well. I think we did a great job focusing."
Steven Hill made one of two free throws, Brewer knocked down a ‘3' and took the outlet on a rebound from Thomas to feed Famutimi for an alley-oop dunk to make it 62-61 with 6:31 to play.
Lofton, who leads the SEC in 3-point percentage (48.1) and made 7 of 13 on Wednesday at South Carolina, scored his 30th point on his seventh triple against Arkansas to put Tennessee up 64-62 with 6:13 to play.
With Ferguson stuck to him like Velcro, Lofton didn't score the rest of the way.
"He's probably the toughest player I've ever played against," Ferguson said. "I'm just happy he didn't get the last shot, because if he did, we probably wouldn't be here right now."
Two Famutimi free throws tied the score at 64, Ferguson dropped in a 3-pointer and Tennessee went 2 of 6 down the stretch.
"When the technical happened, you can either put your head down and get pissed off or you can get fired up," Heath said. "I thought we got fired up after that play and got some good defensive stops."
Arkansas' recent turnover problems (15.3 in last three games) looked like they'd continue after Thomas made the Razorbacks' 14th of the game with 8:04 to play, but the Hogs didn't give it away again.
The Hogs finished with 18 assists to 14 turnovers, their first positive ratio since 13-12 against Georgia on Feb. 9.
"It gives your team that chemistry, that bond, guys know we're looking for each other," Heath said. "It's the synergy you want. Sometimes when you play one on one and you freeze some guys out and they think, ‘Man, he won't pass me the ball.'
"That brings you bad energy on the court. Guys sharing the ball was big today. The chemistry was a real positive today."
Tennessee used the formula Arkansas' recent opponents have used successfully against the Razorbacks by starting off in 2-3 zone, staying in it most of the game and applying some fullcourt pressure.
It worked by forcing the Hogs to run the full shot clock and they got bailed out by offensive rebounds on four of five possessions where the shot clock was under five seconds before a shot got off.
Arkansas built a 21-15 lead with 10:38 to play in the first half, but the Vols went on a 10-0 run to go ahead 25-21 led by Lofton's first eight points of the game on a wide open 3-pointer off an inbounds play, a steal and layup by Lofton, a stickback by Andre Patterson and another beautiful triple by Lofton to force an Arkansas timeout with 8:02 to go.
Tennessee built its lead as large as 29-23 on another Lofton trey, but Arkansas finished the half on a 14-3 run to take a 37-32 lead with dunks by Thomas and Brewer, a three by Modica and seven more points by Brewer on a long two, a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws.
"It was just a team effort," Ferguson said. "Everybody played together."
Arkansas Wins On Technicality
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