As a result, it was no big surprise that an opportunistic Arkansas defense scored 27 points off 20 Tennessee turnovers and beat the mistake-prone Vols 73-60 Saturday at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Speaking on the post-game show, Tennessee senior Kenny Hall said the Vols knew what was coming (full-court pressure for 40 minutes) but didn't handle it well.
"We knew they were going to be an up-and-down team, a fast-paced team that would try to speed us up and (make us) turn the ball over," he said, "and they did a pretty good job of doing that to us."
Indeed. The Hogs, who rank No. 5 nationally with 18.4 forced turnovers per game, recorded 13 steals and converted many of them into easy transition baskets.
With junior Trae Golden sidelined by a hamstring pull, Tennessee was without its most proven ball-handler. That left the point-guard chores primarily in the hands of Jordan McRae and walk-on Brandon Lopez. McRae struggled mightily, going 2 of 11 from the field and finishing with more turnovers (2) than assists (1). Lopez recorded two turnovers and no assists in 17 backup minutes.
"You miss a guy who's your point guard, who has been in these environments before," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said of Golden's absence. "He's another guy you have to identify because he's a threat offensively who can make plays and find guys.
"Not to take anything away from Brandon Lopez; he's a guy that's going to compete at the end of the day. But it's tough not having probably your best ball-handler out on the floor."
Tennessee lost despite dominating on the inside. Six-foot-8 Jarnell Stokes hit 6 of 7 shots en route to recording 18 points and 10 rebounds. The 6-foot-9 Hall also went 6 of 7 from the field and added 14 points.
"Jarnell and Kenny did a great job of competing and playing well," Martin said. "But if you can't get the ball across the court against the press it's tough to set up anything."
Josh Richardson chipped in 11 points for the Vols, who slip to 11-9 overall and 3-5 in SEC play.
Tennessee shot a respectable 43.8 percent from the field but just 20 percent (2 of 10) from 3-point range and 66.7 percent (16 of 24) from the foul line. The Vols won the backboards 38-31.
Arkansas shot 55 percent from the field in the second half and 48.3 percent for the game. The Hogs hit just 26.7 percent (4 of 15) from 3 but 73.3 percent (11 of 15) from the free-throw line.
Tennessee led six times by one point, the last time coming at 18-17 with 7:44 left to halftime. Young turned the momentum by scoring 10 points in a 14-2 spurt that gave Arkansas a 31-20 lead.
After committing 12 first-half turnovers, Tennessee gave away the ball on each of its first three second-half possessions. That enabled the Razorbacks to extend a 35-25 halftime lead to 41-25. Tennessee pulled within eight points (54-46) on a Hall three-point play with 7:13 left but a Powell layup and a Young 3-pointer stalled the rally.
The Vols narrowed the gap to seven points (65-58) on a Stokes foul shot with 1:47 left but Young produced six points in an 8-0 Arkansas spurt that widened the gap to 73-58 with 18 seconds left.
Ultimately, Tennessee's shaky ball-handling and the Hogs' pesky press cost the Vols any chance they might have had at posting their first road win of the season.
"The key is, we had opportunities to get across (the midcourt line)," Martin said. "When you get across, you have to attack under control, then score the ball. It's a fine line between taking quick shots and taking good shots."
Tennessee returns to action Wednesday night, hosting Georgia at 8 o'clock.