Hubbs, who scored a career-high 16 points in the Vols’ earlier win at Knoxville, produced 15 in the rematch. His final shot wouldn’t drop, however, despite tantalizingly bouncing on the rim several times.
Down 67-64 with 11.9 seconds left, the Vols called timeout and set up the biggest play of the game. Basically, the strategy was to let Josh Richardson draw the Razorback defense, then kick the ball to Hubbs in the right corner. The ploy worked but the shot just wouldn’t go down.
“I was open, and I took the shot,” Hubbs said on the post-game show. “I couldn’t have shot it any better. It hit every spot on the rim. I think I shot it good. Unfortunately, it didn’t go in.”
Arkansas rebounded the miss, and Tennessee immediately fouled Michael Qualls. He sank both ends of a one-and-one with 2.3 seconds left to seal the outcome.
Qualls contributed 17 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists for the Razorbacks, now 16-4 overall and 5-2 in SEC play. Bobby Portis, the Hogs’ 6-foot-11 superstar, added 17 points and 8 rebounds.
Richardson posted 17 points, 6 assists and just 1 turnover for Tennessee, which slips to 12-7 and 4-3. Hubbs added 15 points, Armani Moore 12 and Kevin Punter 10 as the Vols suffered their first SEC road loss after winning the previous three.
Speaking on the post-game show, Vol head coach Donnie Tyndall expressed pride in his team, noting: “To come into this environment, which is the loudest place we’ve played all year, with a bunch of guys playing and/or starting for the first time … they really bowed their back and competed.”
The coach was especially proud of Hubbs, a 6-foot-6 sophomore who is becoming far more assertive than he was in the season’s first nine games.
“The thing with Robert is, he’s being more aggressive off the bounce, getting the ball to the rim,” Tyndall said. “That’s what he can do. With the athleticism and length he has, he needs to continue to do that.”
Arkansas opened the game with a 7-0 blitz that forced Tyndall to call a timeout with 17:45 left in the first half.
“I thought I was going to have to use all five timeouts at that pace,” the coach quipped.
Tennessee roared back following the timeout and went ahead 14-12 on a four-footer from in front by Hubbs. A Hubbs’ 3-pointer bumped the lead to 26-21, and the Vols went to the break with a 37-35 lead.
The Vols matched their biggest lead at 45-40 on a 3-pointer by Moore with 16:28 to go but Arkansas answered with a 14-5 spurt to move ahead 54-50. After ties at 54, 56, 58 and 60, a Rashad Madden trey gave the Hogs the lead for good at 63-60.
Tennessee had chances in the final minutes but could not convert. Punter missed two foul shots with 2:45 left and the Vols down 65-62. Moore threw a pass out of bounds to waste another possession. After two foul shots by Madden, Richardson hit a hanging 6-footer from in front with 51 seconds left to pull the Vols within 67-64. Tennessee then forced a turnover, setting up the corner 3 attempt by Hubbs.
Tyndall singled out 6-foot-10 freshman Tariq Owens for praise, noting that he “got some major minutes in a tough environment. He rotated and took a charge. He had three rebounds in 11 minutes, which is solid. Our young guys are getting better, which obviously bodes well for the future.”
Tuesday’s loss was Tennessee’s second in a row but this one had a different feel than Saturday’s home-floor setback against Texas A&M.
“I was disappointed in the A&M game because I don’t think we had the juice we had in some of the previous games – South Carolina, Missouri, et cetera,” Tyndall said. “Tonight I’m disappointed because we played our guts out and lost.”
“Obviously, that’s a big game,” Tyndall said. “With Coach Pearl coming back everyone will be excited. It should be a great environment.”