The University of Tennessee basketball team hadn't been able to find a place on the SEC road this season that they could win.
That was until the Volunteers got to Arkansas.
Chris Lofton poured in 31 points, JaJuan Smith 16 and Wayne Chism 14 as Tennessee downed Arkansas 83-72 Saturday afternoon before 17,268 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
"Momentum is a big thing in college basketball and we are going the wrong way," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "We have to get on the same page, offensively and defensively. This is when our chemistry should be getting better, not worse. Right now we should be playing our best basketball and we are not doing it."
Sonny Weems had 18 points and 7 rebounds and Darian Townes 12 points and 8 rebounds for the Razorbacks (16-12, 5-9), who assured themselves of finishing below .500 in SEC play for the fourth time in five years and the sixth times in eight seasons.
Asked about public speculation about his job status and how it might be weighing on his team and himself, Heath deflected attention.
"You'd have to ask those guys," Heath said. "But my focus is on game to game, winning and righting the ship," Heath said. "That is where my focus is."
Heath did not do his post-game radio show, instead staying in the locker room to address his team and sending out assistant Dan Hipsher.
"I think we have too many breakdowns on little things," Heath said. "Whether it be boxing out, whether it be guarding penetration or rotating and getting our coverages there. Offensive of excecuting and getting the ball where we want it and then finishing plays. It is an execution thing."
Arkansas has now lost four of its last five games and suffered its fifth defeat in its last seven outings while Tennessee (20-9, 8-6) likely punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with its first road win in seven tries in SEC action.
"Our approach today was to get in it (the NCAA Tournament)," Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl said. "This was our first road win in the SEC and we knew were coming into one of the hardest venues. I told the guys you can't play good today, you have to play great."
Lofton, who has battled injuries this season, certainly looked healthy and played great on Saturday.
He was 10-of-19 from the field, 4-of-12 from 3-point range and 7-of-8 from the free throw line on a day when Tennessee shot just 41.7 percent but got 23 more field goal attempts.
"Chris Lofton was the difference, to play 32 minutes and have no turnovers," Pearl said. "He put his team on his back."
The Razorbacks lost despite shooting 51 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line because they committed 24 turnovers – 17 in the second half.
Pearl said that it was by design that Tennessee did not press much in the first half and then amped it up in the second 20 minutes.
"They knew about our press and had prepared and gone over it. but they didn't see it and forgot about it," Pearl said. "That was our strategy. We needed full-court pressure. It gives the appearance of playing harder. It's like sharks in the water, one bite and the players see blood."
A whopping 8 of those turnovers were by Townes with many of them coming in the backcourt against the press.
"We knew what it was and what we were trying to do," Heath said. "We have got to make catches and we have got to make passes. In the first half we did a good job, in the second half not as well. It (the press) is something they are good at and do all the time."
Arkansas upset then No. 9 Tennessee in Knoxville last season in large part becasuse the Razorbacks had only 8 turnovers in that game.
"It is hard to prepare for it in two days with inexperienced guards," Heath said. "Experience is the difference here."
Arkansas led by five points in the second half but Lofton and Tennessee turn the heat up on a press and the Razorbacks looked helpless against it.
The Volunteers went on a big run that had them going from 38-33 down to leading by 72-60 with 5:58 left when Lofton buried a 3-pointer.
The Razorbacks responded with eight straight points – getting to within 72-68 when Weems hit a jumper in the lane with 3:20 remaining.
Townes' rebound basket cut it to 73-70 at the 2:23 mark and Tennessee missed a shot, but the Volunteers' Ramar Smith hustled for the rebound and Wayne Chism eventually scored inside.
"We got to where we needed just another big play, another big shot, but they made the plays and we didn't," Heath said. "It is very frustrating."
Lofton and Smith both got loose for lay-ups with Smith's second one putting the game out of reach at 81-70 with 49.9 seconds left in the game.
Arkansas had led 36-33 at halftime, scoring 13 unanswered points to wipe out an 11-point deficit and going on a 17-2 run at one point.
"This was a game of two different halves," Heath said. "In the first half we looked like we could handle the press and score. In the second half - all of a sudden - they got a spurt and we didn't recover well from it. We blew opportunities and did't make enough plays in this game, pure and simple."
The Razorbacks will play their final home game of the season Wednesday night against Mississippi State before closing out the regular season at Vanderbilt next Saturday.
Sonny Weems shoots over Chris Lofton
UT 83, UA 72
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