After starting the season with nine straight non-conference victories, the Razorback men’s basketball team lost its second consecutive Southeastern Conference matchup against the Tennessee Volunteers on Wednesday night. Arkansas put up a valiant fight against the No. 9 Tennessee Volunteers but ultimately fell flat in the second half of a 79-75 defeat.
Despite the loss, Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said he was pleased with his team’s effort and shot selection in a postgame interview.
“We played hard (and) we gave ourselves a chance to win,” Musselman said. “A shot didn’t go down and we end up in the loss column.”
The scoring margin between the two SEC squads was razor-thin during the first half with five total lead changes.
Junior guard JD Notae converted a layup at the halftime buzzer to give the Hogs a 40-33 lead.
However, Volunteer senior forward John Fulkerson came out firing in the second half and scored seven of the team’s first nine points to quickly erase the deficit.
Fulkerson, a preseason All-SEC first-teamer, contributed 16 points and eight rebounds. Conversely, several notable Hogs were subdued on the stat sheet by a stifling Tennessee defense.
Junior guard Desi Sills failed to score a single point in his 18 minutes on the court. Freshman guard Moses Moody — the Hogs’ season-leading scorer — was held to just six points in 37 minutes.
The Razorbacks struggled to get to the foul line throughout the contest and ended the game with a season-low 10 shots from the charity stripe. Musselman lamented on the lack of whistles in favor of the Hogs as something that swung momentum in favor of the Volunteers.
“I’m sure my daughter can read the box score and understand that the free throws attempted was the difference in the game tonight,” Musselman said.
Senior forward Justin Smith sat out for a second straight game as he works his way back from an ankle injury. Musselman singled out graduate transfer Vance Jackson as someone who played admirably in Smith’s absence.
“I thought tonight guys stepped up with (Justin) Smith being out and we’ll continue to tinker with our rotation,” Musselman said. “Vance Jackson gave us a huge lift both offensively and on the backboards.”
Jackson came off the bench and scored 14 points while grabbing a team-leading eight rebounds. With just 48 seconds remaining, Jackson unleashed a potentially game-tying 3-pointer that rimmed out.
“I’m hungry for playing time...I feel like I’m a big piece for us to win,” Jackson said. “I’m just trying to take advantage of every opportunity.”
Coach Musselman said in his press conference that Jackson’s performance has moved him up in the pecking order.