FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas guard BJ Young isn’t used to coming off the bench.
The Razorbacks’ leading scorer has started 18 times in 19 games this season.
Young wasn’t in Arkansas coach Mike Anderson’s starting lineup for Saturday’s game against Tennessee, though. So the sophomore thought back to last season, when he led the team in scoring despite starting just seven times in 32 games.
“I was able to go back to my role from last year and just come in and do my thing and play with a chip on my shoulder,” Young said.
It was effective once again. Young scored a game-high 25 points, leading the Razorbacks to a 73-60 win against Tennessee in front of an announced crowd of 14,029 in Bud Walton Arena. The sophomore set the tone for the up-tempo Razorbacks (13-8, 4-4 in Southeastern Conference), outrunning a Tennessee (11-9, 3-5 in SEC) team hoping to make the game crawl at a slow pace with starting point guard Trae Golden sidelined by a hamstring injury.
Young scored 12 points – including a stretch of 10 in four minutes – after entering the game in the first half. He added 13 more after the break, finishing four points shy of his season-high of 29.
The performance came two days after Young struggled at Alabama, scoring nine points on 3 of 12 shooting. Anderson believes the reason for the turnaround was simple Saturday: Young was locked in on the defensive end first.
“That enabled him to really get scoring,” Anderson said. “He got some nice buckets getting to the hole and before you know it … Shooting, even for a scorer, is all about confidence. And he played with that swagger.”
Arkansas needed its leading scorer to bounce back after suffering two losses on the road, dropping the Hogs below .500 in conference play entering Saturday’s game.
The Razorbacks also leaned on their defense across the board Saturday, harassing the Volunteers into 20 turnovers. Arkansas turned the mistakes into 27 points, picking up several easy buckets in transition with Young leading the charge.
Arkansas used the first-half spurt from Young to turn a 19-18 lead into a 31-20 advantage. It began with a 3-pointer – which snapped an 0-for-13 performance over the previous four games — and ended with two free throws.
It helped Arkansas take a 35-25 lead into the locker room.
“That’s the biggest key, scoring baskets in transition,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “You allow him to get baskets in transition it’s going to be a long night for you and he was able to make plays from there.”
But Young wasn’t alone in giving Tennessee a headache Saturday.
Freshman Michael Qualls provided plenty of problems as well after starting for the first time in his career. Qualls, who impressed Anderson with a 9-point effort at Alabama, finished with 7 points and a career-high 11 rebounds in 32 minutes.
His athleticism was evident on both ends of the floor. Qualls notched a dunk off a missed shot in the first half, bringing Arkansas fans to their feet.
He added another highlight in the second half. Qualls ripped a rebound away from a Tennessee player after a missed free throw, turned and dunked it for a 54-41 lead.
“He wasn’t in awe or anything about it,” Anderson said. “He took his practice to the game. That tells me he’s in-tune with what is taking place with this basketball team.”
Said Qualls: “I just wanted to come out and produce. I wanted to get as many boards as possible and play lockup D.”
Tennessee shot 43.8 percent from the field Saturday. Forward Jarnell Stokes, who was hit with Arkansas double teams throughout the game, led the Volunteers with 18 points and 10 rebounds. But Stokes also had a team-high four turnovers.
Leading scorer Jordan McRae, who assumed more ball-handling duties with Golden sidelined, finished with 6 points on 2-for-11 shooting.
“It’s tough,” McRae said of Arkansas’ pressure. “I mean, I’ve just got to do a better job of not letting them speed me up and taking better shots than I did (Saturday).”
Powell (12 points) and forward Hunter Mickelson (10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals) joined Young in double figures for the Razorbacks.
The win helped Arkansas improve to 12-1 in Bud Walton Arena and 4-0 in conference games. But Arkansas faces its biggest SEC challenge on Tuesday night, when fourth-ranked Florida travels to Fayetteville.
Young, fresh off his best performance since scoring 22 points against Auburn, said the Razorbacks are eager for the challenge.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to make a statement and show the improvement we’ve made as a team and get a big win in the SEC,” Young said.