The setback was Tennessee's first at home this season after 13 victories. In addition, it was the first time in 17 games the Vols lost when leading with five minutes to go.
"We're all just kind of in a state of shock right now," UT forward Dane Bradshaw said. "We really thought we had that one but they (Razorbacks) continued to battle and throw runs at us."
In addition to shock, the Vols had to be feeling pretty weary.
"We were popped. We were absolutely popped. I could see it there down the stretch," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said, ultimately blaming his over-use of starters C.J. Watson (35 minutes), Andre Patterson (34) and Chris Lofton (33) for the fatigue that fueled the late lapse.
"I didn't keep them fresh enough for them to be able to make plays down the stretch like they would normally make," Pearl said.
Coming off a physically taxing and emotionally draining win at Florida on Wednesday night, the Vols simply didn't have their usual energy level. And, for a team that relies more on raw energy than raw talent, that proved decisive.
Tennessee's usually potent transition offense never got going. As a result, the Vols shot just 37.5 percent in the second half. Their usually pesky full-court defense never got going, either. They forced just 10 turnovers, barely half their season's average.
"Turning people over requires a lot of effort, a lot of energy," Pearl said. "We create offense from our defense but we created very little offense from our defense today, particularly in the second half. To create offense from defense, you've got to really have a lot of energy."
Even so, Tennessee expanded a 42-36 halftime lead to 63-49 when Watson drained a 3-pointer with 8:48 to go. The Razorbacks appeared done. They weren't.
Darian Townes, a 6-10 reserve, hit three inside baskets to fuel a 15-0 spurt that turned the 14-point deficit into a one-point lead (64-63) with 4:14 remaining.
Jonathon Modica sank two free throws with 25.8 seconds left, boosting the lead to 72-69. When JaJuan Smith missed a 3-point try, Eric Ferguson rebounded and was fouled. He made the second free throw, sealing the deal with 10.6 seconds left.
Townes finished 7 of 9 from the floor and led the Hogs (19-8 overall, 8-6 SEC) with 15 points and 6 rebounds in just 23 minutes. Vincent Hunter, another 6-10 reserve, chipped in 10 points and 7 rebounds in 16 minutes. Star guard Ronnie Brewer managed just 9 points but contributed 9 assists and 5 rebounds as the Hogs dominated the backboards 45-24.
Watson scored 17 to pace Tennessee (20-5, 11-3). Lofton had 12, Smith 11 and Patterson 10. Major Wingate, at 6-10 the only Vol who could match the Razorbacks' towering frontline, contributed just 3 points and 1 rebound in 25 minutes.
"We didn't compete defensively in the post nearly enough," Pearl said, also condemning UT's shot selection as "uncharacteristic."
Certainly, Tennessee's late-game collapse was uncharacteristic. Bradshaw saw it coming, though.
"Even when we started to get a double-digit lead I felt we were a little sloppy," he said. "We weren't playing to the best of our ability. We knew that, and it eventually came back to haunt us. We weren't able to answer their last run."
Watson also panned the Vol performance.
"It was pretty much all about defense," he said. "We didn't really guard anybody; we didn't really stop anybody."
Still, the defensive meltdown could be traced to an empty gas tank.
"The energy level was a lot lower than it usually is," Watson said. "We really didn't bring the energy on offense or defense. We just stood around."