Rick Barnes’ Sincere Compliment Falls on Deaf Ears + More from Tennessee Loss

Rick Barnes, Tennessee basketball, Arkansas vs Tennessee
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

Once an impenetrable fortress, Bud Walton Arena has now hosted a pair of absolute curb-stompings at the expense of Arkansas basketball this season.

A three-point play by Joseph Pinion in the closing seconds helped the Razorbacks avoid matching their worst loss ever in the venerable venue, but it was still an embarrassing 92-63 defeat at the hands of No. 8 Tennessee.

The 29-point margin is still the third-worst in Bud Walton Arena history, trailing only the 32-point loss to Auburn earlier this season and a 30-point loss to Florida in 2012, and it snapped the Volunteers’ seven-game skid in Fayetteville.

The last time Tennessee (18-6, 8-3 SEC) won at Arkansas, John Pelphrey was the coach and the game was televised on Raycom. It was during the infamous 2008-09 season, when the Razorbacks went just 2-14 in SEC play, but that team still found a way to beat a top-10 team coached by Rick Barnes.

That was when Barnes was still at Texas. He has since brought a pair of ranked Tennessee teams to Fayetteville that returned home with losses, too, so that’s likely why he spoke so highly of Bud Walton after the game.

“We had a lot of respect for Arkansas coming in,” Barnes told reporters. “We knew that they were capable of beating anybody in this building because we’ve got so much respect for their fans in this building here.”

Barnes probably believes what he said considering his personal history, but the fact of the matter is that simply hasn’t been true this year.

Sure, the Razorbacks (12-12, 3-8) beat a pair of legitimate Final Four contenders — Purdue (albeit in an exhibition) and Duke — earlier in the season, but since the calendar flipped to 2024, they are just 2-4 at home with wins over an extremely inconsistent Texas A&M team and a mediocre Georgia team.

The four losses have been by an average margin of 20 points, and that includes a competitive loss to Kentucky. Two of the three worst losses by Arkansas in the history of Bud Walton Arena, which opened in 1993-94, have occurred during that stretch.

On Wednesday, the Razorbacks trailed by 20-plus for the final 13:06 and found themselves down by as many as 32 before the aforementioned layup and free throw by Pinion with 16 seconds remaining.

“Tennessee had a better competitive spirit,” Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman said. “That was plain to see.”

Here are a few takeaways from the latest blowout…

Tale of Two Halves

Even though they weren’t leading at halftime, Arkansas had to feel pretty good about where it was gong into the locker room. It shot lights out and trailed by only six against a top-10 team in the country.

The Razorbacks shot 51.9% (14 of 27) from the floor and made 6 of 13 (46.2%) attempts from beyond the arc on their way to scoring 40 points.

After the break, though, Arkansas basketball couldn’t do anything offensively. It was doubled up in the second half, as Tennessee outscored it 46-23. The Razorbacks were an abysmal 8 of 31 (25.8%) from the field and 2 of 10 (20%) from deep.

Looking back at it, Arkansas probably should have had the lead at halftime. Instead, it committed nine turnovers that led to 17 points for Tennessee. One particular area where the Razorbacks struggled was getting points in the paint area, something they had done a better job of in previous games. The Tennessee basketball strategy of taking way the dives from the likes Jalen Graham and Makhi Mitchell off ball screens was especially effective.

“We didn’t want them to hit the roll,” Barnes said afterward. “They do a great job of passing it there and they do a great job of doing that as well as anybody that we’ve played against, and we felt like it was important that we tried to take away the roll man as much as possible and try to keep them on the perimeter and keep them out of the high-percentage areas.”

The Hogs also didn’t do themselves any favors by giving up five offensive boards that led to 10 second-chance points for the Volunteers.

The Razorbacks hit the boards better in the second half, but still struggled with turnovers that led to another 11 points.

“Tennessee was more physical than us, created more turnovers,” Musselman said. “The points off turnovers was a killer. We’ve talked about our inability at times to take care of the basketball. Live-ball turnovers were a huge, huge problem tonight.”

Dominated in the Paint

Another area Tennessee dominated Wednesday night was in the paint, where it actually outscored Arkansas 48-22. Most of those points came from point-blank distance, as the Volunteers made 12 layups and nine dunks.

Tennessee actually already had a season-high seven dunks when Jonas Aidoo threw one down with 2:45 left in the second half. The lopsided nature is even more noticeable when you look at the fouls, as Tennessee had three and-1 opportunities in the first half alone.

It was a disappointing aspect considering how well Arkansas’ big men have played of late. Makhi Mitchell’s career-long streak of four games with at least 10 points came to an end with only 1 points, while Jalen Graham scored 8 and Chandler Lawson scored 2.

“I thought they got whatever they wanted in the paint tonight — hard post ups and physical post ups and they established post position,” Musselman said. “When you catch the ball that deep, it’s pretty hard to stop somebody.”

Not Just Knecht for Tennessee

Most of the attention heading into the Arkansas vs Tennessee game was, understandably, on Dalton Knecht. After all, the Northern Colorado transfer was averaging 20.3 points overall and had been even better in SEC play, putting up 26.4 points per game.

Knecht didn’t have the historic kind of scoring night that some may have expected from him, but he still had 22 points on an efficient 7 of 14 shooting — his 12th time eclipsing 20 points this season.

However, the player of the game was likely Tennessee forward Jonas Aidoo. Not only did he score a game-high 23 points, but he did so on an incredibly efficient 11 of 14 shooting and added 12 rebounds for a double-double. Musselman described his performance as “phenomenal” and said he’s one of the most improved players in the SEC.

“He keeps getting better,” Musselman said. “What you want to see out of players is player improvement and you can tell he gets in the gym. His mid-range shot, from where it was 24 (games ago), so much improved.”

On top of that, Tennessee also got 17 points from Jordan Gainey, who played just 18 minutes off the bench. He came into the game averaging 7.5 points and he nearly got that by knocking down a pair of 3s.

Musselman pointed to those two players as the differences in the game because some other Volunteers actually struggled.

“I thought we actually guarded a lot of their really, really good shooters from deep well,” Musselman said. “Vescovi and Zeigler were 1 of 6. That was a big part of the game plan. We did a good job of defending those guys. Dalton Knecht is a guy that I think had six or seven 3s in his last game that he made. Between Zeigler and Vescovi and Dalton Knecht, if you woulda told me they would only make two 3s and we would lose by this (margin), I would say there’s no possible way, but there is a possible way.”

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks are back on the road this weekend, heading to Starkville, Miss., for a game against Mississippi State.

For the second time this season, Arkansas will be playing a team off its “open date,” as the Bulldogs didn’t play during the midweek. They beat Missouri on Saturday in their last game, improving to 16-8 overall and 5-6 in SEC play.

Mississippi State is led by Tolu Smith III, who is averaging 16.8 points and 8.3 rebounds this season.

Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. CT Saturday and the game will be televised on ESPNU.

Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits

  • Eric Musselman used yet another different starting lineup Wednesday night — the 14th of the season. Prior to this game, the five-man group of El Ellis, Davonte Davis, Tramon Mark, Chandler Lawson and Jalen Graham had played just 15 seconds together this year.
  • In just his second game back since leaving the team for undisclosed reasons, Davonte Davis never came off the court. He played a full 40 minutes and finished with 8 points on 4 of 9 shooting, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and no turnovers. Most of Davis’ damage came in the first half, when he scored or assisted on 18 of Arkansas’ 40 points.
  • Jeremiah Davenport enjoyed his best game in a while, scoring 8 points on 3 of 4 shooting, including 2 of 4 from deep, in 20 minutes. It was the first time he’s knocked down multiple shots since the South Carolina game on Jan. 20. He was just 2 of 12 over the last five games in which he averaged 11.2 minutes.
  • Another surprise contributor was Khalif Battle, whose playing time had plummeted in recent games. After playing only 27 total minutes over the last three games, he got 15 minutes against Tennessee and scored 8 points on 2 of 5 shooting. He also made all three of his free throws. Battle didn’t score at all in the last two games.
  • The Razorbacks hosted 2026 four-star prospect Aidan Chronister for an unofficial visit Wednesday. The Rogers product is ranked No. 32 overall in his class by 247Sports and has numerous high-major offers, including Arkansas.

Arkansas vs Tennessee Highlights

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Postgame Interviews

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Arkansas vs Tennessee Box Score

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