He wasn’t perfect but he came awfully close. The 6-foot-6 sophomore hit 6 of 7 shots (2 of 2 from 3-point range) and 2 of 2 foul shots en route to a career-high 16 points in helping the Vols shock the 19th-ranked Razorbacks 74-69. It was the kind of performance fans have been expecting since he walked on campus 18 months ago as a five-star recruit from Dyer County High in Newbern.
Since scoring just one point in Games 7, 8 and 9 combined, Hubbs has produced consecutive outings of 9, 11, 8, 8, 5 and 16 points.
“Robert Hubbs is a great player,” teammate Josh Richardson said. “I’ve seen a lot of flashes. I think the game is slowing down a lot for him, especially because he didn’t get to play last year very much (due to shoulder problems).”
Now healthy and more experienced, Hubbs seems to be more relaxed than a year ago.
“He has a lot of confidence now, where before he would play a little timid because he didn’t have faith in himself,” Richardson said. “Now he’s doing a great job putting everything together.”
Describing Hubbs’ play versus Arkansas as “fantastic,” head coach Donnie Tyndall added: “I think you saw tonight that Robert probably got to the rim more than he has in any game all season. He didn’t settle for floaters, didn’t settle for jump shots – although he did make a couple of big 3s. He drove the ball, got to the rim and finished a bunch of plays. That was huge for us.”
After starting two of the first five games, Hubbs played a reserve role the next nine outings before rejoining the lineup Tuesday night. Clearly pumped, he sank his first four shots in helping the Vols to a 33-31 halftime lead.
“That definitely got me going,” he said. “Once I hit my first couple of shots I knew I was in a rhythm. I felt good about it, and everything falls in line after that.”
Detrick Mostella must’ve found a rhythm, too. The little-used reserve came off the bench firing early in the second half, draining back-to-back 3-pointers that padded the Vol lead to 53-38 with 12:16 to go.
“Detrick doesn’t lack for confidence,” Tyndall quipped.
A Devon Baulkman foul shot gave Tennessee its biggest lead of the game (54-38) with 10:01 remaining but the Vols hit a slump at this point. Arkansas scored seven consecutive points and whittled the gap to nine (54-45). That’s when Hubbs hit the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer from the left corner that widened the gap to 57-45 with 6:08 remaining.
“Coach always tells me when we get the ball to sprint to the corner – doesn’t matter which one,” Hubbs recalled. “I sprinted to the corner. My teammate found me, and if I’m open I’m taking it.”
|ROBERT HUBBS III|
Richardson's 12-foot jumper pushed the lead to 59-45 with 5:45 left but the Vols quit attacking soon after, much to the chagrin of their head coach.
“I thought for about 35 minutes we played to win,” Tyndall said. “The last five minutes we played not to lose. You could tell: We tightened up a little bit, missed some free throws, turned it over, became a little apprehensive. You can blame that on whatever you want but I believe it’s a young team that’s still trying to figure it out.”
Three-point bombs by Rashad Madden, Anton Beard and Anthlon Bell fueled a 17-7 Razorback run that trimmed a 61-47 deficit to 68-64. Richardson sank two foul shots for the Vols but Michael Qualls made an uncontested layup for Arkansas. After Baulkman missed two foul shots for Tennessee, Beard drained another 3-pointer for the Hogs, trimming the gap to 70-69 with 15 seconds remaining.
Kevin Punter hit two clutch foul shots to give Tennessee a 72-69 lead with nine seconds left, then made the biggest blunder of the game – fouling Beard as he leaped into the air 35 feet from the basket. Hearing the whistle, Beard followed through as if attempting a shot. Official Ted Valentine awarded him three foul shots and a chance to tie the score with five seconds left.
Tyndall took the blame for the strategic foul-up, explaining that he tried to instruct his team to foul while the ball was still in backcourt, forcing the Hogs to waste precious seconds inbounding the ball again.
“That’s my fault; that’s on me,” the coach said. “When I blame my team, I tell ‘em to be man enough to admit the mistake. That’s on me. Thank goodness it didn’t cost us.”
Fortunately for Tennessee, Beard missed the first two foul shots, then purposely bricked the third in hopes Arkansas could get the rebound and launch a potential game-tying 3-pointer. Armani Moore rebounded the third foul-shot miss, however, was fouled and sealed the win with two free throws at the four-second mark.
Richardson made 8 of 11 shots (2 of 4 from 3) and led the Vols with 20 points. He also contributed 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and just 1 turnover in 35 spectacular minutes at the point. Hubbs chipped in 2 rebounds and 2 steals in addition to his 16 points. Moore hit 6 of 8 field-goal tries en route to 14 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 assists and a block.
Punter, benched after starting the first 14 games, did not respond well in his first outing as a reserve – going 1 of 8 from the field and committing 3 turnovers in 22 relief minutes. Counting an 0-for-7 outing in Saturday’s loss to Alabama, he is 1 for 15 the past two games.
Six-foot-11 Arkansas superstar Bobby Portis produced 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Razorbacks, now 13-3 overall and 2-1 in SEC play.
Tennessee played an outstanding all-around game in improving to 10-5 overall and 2-1 in league play. The Big Orange shot 50.9 percent (27 of 53) from the field and 46.2 percent (6 of 13) from 3 but just 53.8 percent (14 of 26) from the foul line. The Vols somehow outrebounded the towering Razorbacks 33-32 and forced 18 turnovers, while committing just 14. They visit Missouri on Saturday.
Tyndall post-game video
Hubbs on best game as a Vol
Richardson leading young roster