McRae’s 34 enough for Vols to halt ‘Hogs, 81-74
image via Matthew S. DeMaria/Tennessee Athletics
It wasn’t pretty, but the Tennessee Vols got an important SEC win at home Wednesday night as they held off Arkansas, 81-74. That upped UT’s record to 12-6, 3-2 in league play.
The Vols and Razorbacks played an uneven tempo in the first half that seemed slower and sloppier than the stats reveal.
Jarnell Stokes played just 13 minutes in that opening period and had just two points, those on free throws. Josh Richardson and Jeronne Maymon helped pick up the scoring slack. Richardson scored Tennessee’s first four points.
The Vols three-point shooting woes continued in the opening 20 minutes. UT hit just two of their seven first half attempts after a 2-13 outing Saturday against Kentucky.
Arkansas was four of nine and also held their own on the boards. The Razorbacks at one point had outscored Tennessee 17-0 on second chance points.
The second half saw each team make a series of runs, with neither able to establish control of the game. Arkansas built an eight point lead to start the second 20 minutes of play, but the Vols rallied to tie it up at 63 and battled from there.
Jordan McRae came up huge for the Vols in that second half, scoring 24 of his season-high 34 points. It was his huge night that made the difference for UT.
“For him, that was more of a Rocky Top, let’s play,” said head coach Cuonzo Martin. “Getting up the court and making plays, because the way they play, you’ve got to make individual plays. He did a good job of getting to the rim, getting to the free throw line, knocking the shots down. Once he got his head up, he was good.”
Tennessee had seemed uninspired until the final 2:52 when they turned up the intensity on defense and were assisted by an Arkansas intentional foul. Jeronne Maymon hit the two free throws and Jordan McRae knocked down a three-pointer on the ensuing possession and the Vols never trailed again. Both sides agreed it was a turning point in the game.
“I think it gave us momentum,” Martin said, “especially when Jeronne made the free throws. I think it helped us.”
“That was really big for us,” said Maymon, “’cause I think after the free throws, we got the ball and I think Jordan hit a three. That really got our juices flowing and the crowd back in it, so I think that really helped us.”
“McRae played well,” said Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, “but the MVP was the flagrant foul call. You get in two or three minutes and that’s one that should play on. I thought it just changed the whole dynamic of how the game was going.”
“This is a game I didn’t want to lose,” said McRae. “We didn’t want to lose it at home, especially home games like this. We needed this win.”
UT finally salted it away in the final 25 seconds, thanks to a clutch defensive play and a clutch rebound by McRae, who iced the game with three free throws over the final 20 seconds. McRae scored the Vols final 13 points and the Vols pull out the 81-74 win.
“With a team like that,” added McRae, “you don’t want a team like that to be around. When it was 10 seconds left, I still was, we were still very into the game, we can’t let up. A team like that can still hit a 3, get another one and next thing you know it’s a tie game. We didn’t want that to happen.”
The Vols now hit the road on Saturday to Gainesville to face 6th ranked Florida.