ATLANTA -- Tennessee nearly blew a 16-point lead in the final seven minutes of its SEC tourney opening-round game against Arkansas, but survived with a 74-68 victory at the Georgia Dome.
The Razorbacks trailed 68-52 with 7:05 to play, but then went on a 16-0 run to tie the score at 68 with 2:08 remaining. After starting the second half 14-of-18 from the field, the Volunteers went 0-for-11 from the floor and had two turnovers during their nearly five-minute drought.
On Tennessee’s next possession, Harris found senior Brian Williams inside for an easy layup to make it 70-68 with 55 seconds to go. After the Hogs called timeout, UT guard Melvin Goins stripped the ball from guard Julysses Nobles, and Harris was fouled with 33.8 seconds to play. Harris made two foul shots to seal the victory.
Turning point: After the Volunteers took a 16-point lead in the second half, Arkansas got back-to-back 3-pointers from Rotnei Clarke and Nobles to make it 68-64 with 3:41 to play. Williams, the Vols’ best inside presence, was poked in the eye and had to leave the floor. The Hogs tied the score at 68 with Williams sitting on the bench. He returned to make the winning basket.
Key player: Harris, a freshman from Dix Hills, N.Y., is considered a potential one-and-done player and it doesn’t take very long to see why he might enter the NBA draft after only one college season. The 6-foot-8 forward scored 20 points on 7-for-13 shooting and grabbed three rebounds.
Key stat: The Volunteers held on to win despite shooting only 2-for-15 on 3-pointers. It was the fewest number of 3-pointers UT made in a game this season, tying season-lows in losses to Kentucky and Charlotte.
Miscellaneous: Junior guard Scotty Hopson, the Vols’ leading scorer with 17.7 points per game, scored only eight points on 4-for-9 shooting. He didn’t start the second half because of a “coach’s decision” and was replaced on the floor by senior Josh Bone.
What’s next: The Volunteers will play SEC regular-season champion Florida in Friday night’s quarterfinals. Both of UT’s games against UF this season were extremely close, with the Gators winning 81-75 in overtime in Knoxville on Jan. 11 and 61-60 in Gainesville on Feb. 12. Arkansas finished the season with an 18-12 record, and coach John Pelphrey’s future at the school seems to be tenuous at best with a 69-59 record in four seasons.