'Very, very, very disappointed'

Even the winningest team in Tennessee history couldn't win its way into the SEC Tournament finals.

Arkansas 7-footer Steven Hill sank a seven-foot shot with 5.3 seconds left and UT's Chris Lofton misfired at the buzzer as the Razorbacks nipped the Vols 92-91 Saturday in the semifinal round of the 2008 conference tourney. The game was played at Alexander Coliseum on the Georgia Tech campus due to storm damage at The Georgia Dome, the tourney's original site.

Arkansas, now 22-10, will face the winner of Saturday night's Mississippi State-Georgia game Sunday at 3 for the SEC Tournament title.

Tennessee, 29-4 and ranked No. 4 nationally, has not made the SEC Tournament finals since 1991 and has not won the event since 1979.

"We wanted to continue to make history," Vol head coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game show, "so we're very, very very disappointed."

Tennessee's offense was magnificent. The Big Orange hit 30 of 55 shots (54 percent) from the floor and 11 of 24 tries (45.8 percent) from 3-point range. The Vols' post defense and rebounding, however, were awful.

Arkansas dominated the Vols on the backboards 34-22 and claimed most of the battles in the paint. Charles Thomas, a 6-8, 231-pound Razorback reserve, scored a career-high 24 points. Darian Townes, a 6-10, 243-pound starter, added 16.

"You can't win championships getting beat on the boards like we did," Pearl said, adding that another key was "their ability to score with Thomas and Townes."

In the regular-season game at Knoxville – a 93-71 Tennessee romp – The Vols limited Thomas to 6 points and Townes to 12.

"That was the difference in Game 1," Pearl said. "Our front-line guys clearly outplayed them."

Actually, Tennessee's front-line outplayed its Arkansas counterpart Saturday night when 6-7, 220-pound Tyler Smith was on the floor. Unfortunately for the Vols, Smith was on the floor just 23 minutes due to foul trouble. He made the most of his minutes, however, hitting 10 of 13 shots (3 of 3 from 3) and scoring a season-high 24 points.

The Vols also got solid play from 6-9, 243-pound Wayne Chism, who chipped in 11 points. Tennessee's inside reserves – 6-7 sophomore Duke Crews and 6-10 freshman Brian Williams – struggled mightily, however, against the tall and talented Razorbacks.

"Brian didn't have one of his better games," Pearl noted. "Duke didn't have one of his better games. Neither Duke or Brian got a defensive rebound. And they didn't do a very good job guarding the post. That's the bottom line: We let the ball get in there."

On those rare occasions when Arkansas was unable to pound the ball inside, guards Patrick Beverley (17 points) and Stefan Welsh (12 points on four 3-pointers) managed to burn the Vols from the outside.

Tyler Smith got plenty of help offensively from his Vol teammates. Lofton hit 7 of 12 shots and finished with a game-high 25 points. JaJuan Smith added 18 points.

"Offensively, we played terrific," Pearl said. "Tyler Smith played lights-out. JaJuan was JaJuan. Chris was Chris. We got a lot of productivity from them."

Tennessee led by nine (73-64) with 8:57 to play but Tyler Smith picked up his fourth foul in the middle of a 12-3 Arkansas run that tied the score at 76-76 with 6:04 remaining.

After shooting free throws very well for much of the game, the Vols struggled a bit down the stretch. Ramar Smith missed a pair that could've boosted UT's lead to 85-81 with 3:48 to play and Lofton made just one of two with 58.2 seconds left, leaving the Vols clinging to an 89-88 lead.

A tip-in by Townes gave Arkansas a 90-89 lead with 46.5 seconds left. JaJuan Smith missed a 3 but Lofton rebounded and Pearl called a timeout with 23.9 seconds left. JaJuan popped free on the ensuing inbounds play and hit a layup that put Tennessee up 91-90 with 20.2 seconds remaining.

"We come out of a timeout and we get JaJuan a layup," Pearl noted. "We switched screeners ... screwed 'em up and got a layup. Then all we need is a stop, and we'd been getting 'em all year long."

Not this time, though. Hill's high-arching seven-foot shot from the right side was a back-breaker and a heart-breaker.

"It was very ironic that the only basket for Hill was the last basket," Pearl noted.

Given how poorly he had played the previous 39 minutes, Hill probably was Arkansas' fifth option on its final possession. He essentially was a last resort on the play.

"We played great defense," Pearl said. "Out of no place else to throw the ball, they (Razorbacks) threw it inside because we had 'em all tied up. But we were behind the post, and he turned and made a great shot. What are you going to do?"

Tennessee raced the ball up the floor but Lofton's 20-footer at the buzzer was off the mark.

"We got a good look," Pearl said. "I like the look we got."

The shot didn't fall but the Vols did. And, as a result, another trip to Atlanta ended on a sour note.

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