Tennessee forward Tobias Harris, right, vies for a rebound with Arkansas forward Michael Sanchez (31) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference tournament Thursday, March 10, 2011, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
ATLANTA—Tobias Harris smiled slightly and shook his head.
Even Tennessee’s fantastic freshman can’t explain the Volunteers’ knack of making every game a close one.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But if I knew, I’d want to fix it right away. All you can do is live and learn.”
Fortunately UT found a way to pull this close one out.
Harris scored 20 points and Brian Williams made the go-back-ahead basket with 56 seconds left as the Vols overcame losing a 16-point deficit late in the second half of a 74-68 win over Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference tournament Thursday night at the Georgia Dome.
“[Arkansas] made some big shots,” UT coach Bruce Pearl said. “It happened so fast. We’re obviously pleased to get the win and advance.”
UT (19-13), which faces SEC champion Florida in a quarterfinal tonight at 7:30, scored the final six points of the game after the Razorbacks (18-13) scored 16 straight in a five-minute stretch following Steven Pearl’s basket that gave UT a 68-52 lead.
“In my mindset it was what can I do out there to help us sustain this game and come out here with a victory and move on,” Harris said. “That’s all I was thinking about. I don’t think we panicked, but I don’t think we made good plays on the offensive end. We got stops.
Arkansas had a chance to take the lead, but Delvon Johnson, who had 15 points and eight rebounds, traveled with 1:10 left. Williams scored in the post on UT’s ensuing possession off a feed from Harris.
“That was the game plan going in, that [Arkansas] was going to try to double Tobias, and me or the opposite wing was going to be open,” said Williams, who had nine points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes in his first game back after missing UT’s final two regular-season games with a back injury. “I was open and Tobias made a great pass.”
Rotnei Clarke scored 18 points for Arkansas, which shot 67 percent (14-of-21) in the second half after making just seven of its 28 shots in the first half. Harris scored 16 first-half points, and the Vols ripped off a 12-0 run to take a 14-point lead.
But UT, which lost seven of its 11 SEC games decided by six points or less, again couldn’t put Arkansas away. The Razorbacks made six of their 12 3-point attempts in the second half after making just two of 13 in the first half.
“We just didn’t do a good job on getting back on defense and stopping their shooters,” Harris said. “They shot a high percentage from the field in the second half. That’s one of the things we’ve really got to focus on in second halves, getting the lead and sustaining the lead.”
Said guard Josh Bone: “We needed a stop, that’s all it is. Teams are going to make runs, but the only thing on my mind was making a stop.”
After Williams’ bucket, Harris poked the ball away from Julysses Nobles and sank two free throws after drawing a foul in transition at the other end.
“Tobias Harris played like an All-American,” Coach Pearl said. “He’s got great confidence because nobody in this country works harder than he does to prepare. It was obvious that he was the dominant player on the floor tonight.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...