ATLANTA — Arkansas senior Gary Ervin knows where he can find Tennessee sophomore Tyler Smith in the near future. The 6-foot-7 forward's impressive 24-point, six-rebound performance in Arkansas' 92-91 victory over Tennessee on Saturday proved to Ervin that Smith will play for pay.
"He's a pro," Ervin said. "He played like one. Every time his team needed a basket, he would make one," Ervin said.
Smith couldn't convert enough shots to keep Arkansas out of the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game for the second consecutive season. But don't blame Smith. He did all he could, hitting 10 of his 13 shots, including all three of his 3-point attempts.
For most of the game, he was simply unguardable. Smith knocked down long jump shots. He scored on post moves. He drove past defenders. He even dished out three assists and didn't commit one turnover.
"He's such a tough guy to keep track of," Arkansas senior Charles Thomas said. "He's just so athletic."
For the second consecutive game, Arkansas used its size and strength advantage in the frontcourt. On Friday, the Razorbacks grabbed 21 more rebounds than No. 18 Vanderbilt and snagged 22 offensive rebounds.
In beating the Volunteers, Arkansas hauled in 12 more rebounds and posted 13 offensive rebounds. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl was visibly frustrated during his post-game news conference.
"You can't win many championships getting beat on the boards like we did," Pearl said.
Tennessee also frustrated its coach by failing to carry out its game plan.
"We were supposed to front the post and we didn't do what our coach had designed," Tyler Smith said. "That's why they scored so many buckets on us inside."
A day after outscoring the Commodores 50-20 in the paint, Arkansas scored 10 more points than Tennessee inside.
Before the Razorbacks huddled up for their post-game prayer in their locker room, senior forward Vincent Hunter had a message for his teammates. Hunter wanted the Hogs to remember last season's SEC Tournament championship game loss to Florida.
"Vincent Hunter, our leader on the team, mentioned that we weren't able to pull this thing off last year," Pelphrey said.
Arkansas gets another chance at 2:30 p.m. today in Alexander Memorial Coliseum when they take on Georgia, which improbably won two games on Saturday. The Bulldogs, the No. 6 seed out of the Eastern Division, beat Kentucky 60-56 and Mississippi State 64-60. Georgia defeated Arkasas 82-69 on Jan. 19 in Athens.
"They have shown heart and courage and resiliency," Pelphrey said.
The Razorbacks have weathered shaky offensive performances recently by senior Sonny Weems because of one player: Stefan Welsh. The 6-foot-2 sophomore guard came off the bench to nail four 3-pointers and finished with 12 points. Welsh, who played 27 minutes, also had a hand up in Chris Lofton's face on his last-second shot.
Welsh scored 11 points in 14 minutes Arkansas' win on Friday, giving him his first back-to-back double-figure scoring outputs this season.
"It's all about confidence," Ervin said. "His is sky-high right now. He was telling me before the game that this is the most comfortable he has ever felt with his shot."
Sophomore guard Patrick Beverley continued his stretch of stellar scoring. He posted 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting and has now tallied 82 points in his last four games. ... The 183 combined points marked the most points scored in regulation in an SEC Tournament game since the Arkansas-Tennessee game in 1998. ... Arkansas is now 5-1 vs. ranked opponents this season, with two victories over Vanderbilt and wins over Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi State. ... Senior center Darian Townes scored 17 points, his fifth consecutive game in double figures.
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