McRae scored Tennessee’s last 13 points of the game and finished with 34 as the Volunteers erased an eight-point, second-half deficit Wednesday in an 81-74 victory over Arkansas. McRae’s 3-pointer with 2:46 remaining put Tennessee ahead for good.
“This is a game I didn’t want to lose,” McRae said. “We didn’t want to lose it at home. ... We needed this win.”
Arkansas (12-6, 1-4 SEC) is 45-6 at home and 2-21 in true road games during Mike Anderson’s three-year coaching tenure. The Razorbacks fell to 0-3 in true road games this season.
The Razorbacks led 68-66 with 2:52 left when Kikko Haydar was called for an intentional foul on Jeronne Maymon as the Tennessee forward was driving to the basket. Maymon made both free throws to tie the game, and McRae sank a go-ahead 3-pointer on Tennessee’s ensuing possession.
“McRae played well, but the MVP was the flagrant-foul call,” Anderson said. “You get (inside) 2 or 3 minutes, and that’s one that should play on. I thought it just changed the whole dynamic of how the game was going.”
That 3-pointer was the only basket Tennessee (12-6, 3-2) would make in the final 8 minutes, 18 seconds, but the Vols held on because McRae made his free throws down the stretch. McRae was 10 of 12 from the foul line in the final 2:25. Tennessee ended up 30 of 38 on free throws, while Arkansas was 11 of 17.
McRae, a senior guard, scored 24 points of his 34 points after halftime and ended up one point shy of his career high. McRae scored 35 points last season in a 78-68 loss at Georgia.
Maymon scored 17 points and Josh Richardson added 10 points for Tennessee. Jarnell Stokes was held to seven points and six rebounds after having 20 points and 15 rebounds Saturday in a 74-66 loss to Kentucky. McRae said he had room to shoot in part because Arkansas sometimes had three or four players surrounding Stokes.
“I just really wanted the ball at the end of the game,” McRae said. “I knew with how they were guarding Jarnell, it would be hard for him to score and Jeronne as well.”
Coty Clarke scored 16 points, Rashad Madden had 15, Fred Gulley had 11 and Haydar added 10 for Arkansas.
The game featured 10 ties and 15 lead changes.
Anderson altered his lineup Wednesday by starting Anthlon Bell in place of leading scorer Michael Qualls, who had been shooting just 19.6 percent in SEC competition. Qualls scored only one point in 10 minutes of action.
This game looked like a favorable matchup for Tennessee because of Arkansas’ road woes and the Vols’ rebounding ability. The Vols entered the game leading the SEC with a plus-12.5 rebound margin in league competition. Arkansas had been outrebounded by 10.8 boards per game in SEC play to rank last in the league in that category.
But Arkansas was ahead for much of the game because it didn’t allow Tennessee to dominate the boards. Tennessee ended up outrebounding Arkansas 42-37, but Arkansas outscored the Vols 19-7 in second-chance points.
“They were just outworking us,” Maymon said. “For a moment there, we were kind of a step slow to everything. We looked tired. We looked gassed. I think we just lacked the energy. I think we picked it up throughout the game.”
After trailing 39-37 at halftime, Arkansas went on a 9-0 run early in the second half that gave the Razorbacks a 59-51 lead with 14:34 remaining. Clarke had 10 points in the first 4 minutes of the second half to help Arkansas seize the momentum.
Arkansas led 63-55 later in the second half before Tennessee scored eight straight points to tie the score. The lead went back and forth from there until Tennessee finally pulled away.
“Our kids fought,” Anderson said. “I thought our guys played like true Razorbacks. They were in position in the last 3-4 minutes, (but we) didn’t execute as we thought we should have. We didn’t attack the basket and we didn’t get to the free-throw line. On the other end, they got to the free-throw line.”