“It’s tough,” he said, “but I don’t regret anything. I think I left it all out there on the court and I think my team left it all out there. I’m grateful for everything I’ve had here but I guess it’s time to move on.”
With the win, Arkansas (25-7) advances to Saturday’s semifinals. With the loss, Tennessee (16-16) goes home.
As it has done so many times this season, the Big Orange sleepwalked through the first half. The Vols trailed 13-0 three minutes into the game and went to the break down 45-25. No wonder: The Razorbacks had shot 51.6 percent (16 of 31) and the Vols a putrid 16.0 percent (4 of 25).
The situation may not have been hopeless but it was close for a 10th-seeded Tennessee squad facing a second-seeded Razorback team.
Richardson was not about to end his college career on a humiliating note, however. After going 0 for 3 from the field and scoring just four first-half points, he drained 7 of 11 second-half shots and scored 18 more. Putting the team on his back, he hit a 3-pointer and a 15-footer as Tennessee narrowed the gap to 11 points (67-56) with around seven minutes left.
When the Razorbacks began double-teaming Richardson, backcourt mate Kevin Punter took advantage, draining two 3-pointers and a traditional three-point play as the Vols closed to 71-67 with 3:35 remaining.
“Rich did a good job of just attacking the hole and drawing defenders,” Punter said, “and I had a little bit of room and just let it fly.”
Richardson scored three more baskets in the final 90 seconds but Arkansas hit 13 of 16 foul shots down the stretch to hold on. Six-foot-11 Bobby Portis led the Razorbacks with 26 points and 11 rebounds. Guard Michael Qualls added 20 points.
Richardson’s final game saw him produce a double-double (22 points, 10 rebounds). He also contributed 3 assists, a block, 2 steals and a commendable 3 turnovers in 38 minutes at the point against a team known for its tenacious fullcourt pressure. Ultimately, his late heroics were not enough. The Vols never got closer than four points after falling behind 13-0 in the opening minutes.
“It’s tough to beat a team like Arkansas when you spot ‘em 12 points right after the buzzer sounds,” Richardson mused, noting that the Vols “went in kind of soft, and they (Razorbacks) kind of hit us in the mouth.”
|Tennessee junior Armani Moore (4) goes up for a block against Arkansas.|
Tennessee rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit to beat Vanderbilt 67-61 a night earlier. When the Vols twice whittled the deficit to four points against Arkansas (69-65 and 71-67) Punter thought another successful comeback was in the works.
“We were there,” he said. “We were there.”
Richardson thought the Vols were going to win when they got two chances to make it a one-possession game with two minutes remaining and Arkansas up 73-67. Punter missed a 3-pointer that could’ve trimmed the deficit to three points. Tennessee got the offensive rebound but Robert Hubbs missed a 3.
“We were down six, and we got two open 3s,” Richardson said. “They just didn’t fall.”
Punter is convinced the Vols would’ve won if they could’ve pulled even at some point.
“If we’d tied it up,” he said, “it was a whole new ballgame.”
The Vols never tied the score but they never quit, either. That’s a point of pride with all of them.
“We don’t give up,” said Punter, who chipped in 13 points for Tennessee. “Guys don’t relax, so we’re able to come back.”
Head coach Donnie Tyndall said the same thing in different words.
After noting that the Vols dug themselves a huge hole with their awful first half, he added: “I think the rest of the game was a testament to our season, to how we persevered through problems and everything.
“And we never stopped fighting, so I’m proud of the effort.”
Richardson after SEC finale
Hubbs puts a wrap on 1st SEC tourney
Moore gives a look at 2015-16