FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas basketball program fell into a big hole in Southeastern Conference play with its 81-74 loss at Tennessee on Wednesday night.
Now the Razorbacks will see if they can achieve something no other team in school history has accomplished after opening with a 1-4 SEC record.
Arkansas’ start — which has been aided by three road losses in five games — equals its worst since joining the conference in 1992. Four other Arkansas teams — 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2009 — equaled the feat. None of them were able to recovery enough to finish .500 or better in conference play or reach a postseason tournament.
The Razorbacks, who play Auburn in Bud Walton Arena on Saturday, would have to go 8-5 the rest of the way to finish 9-9 in SEC games.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson was not available for comment Thursday, but athletic director Jeff Long remained confident the Razorbacks can rebound. He said the past few games have shown that Arkansas is close to a breakthrough.
“Mike and his staff and the student-athletes have worked hard,” Long said in a phone interview. “We’ve been so close. I mean, three overtime games and we’ve been right there with leads in the second half. You know, if there was a magic formula I would utilize it now, but we’re close. I think our fans can see we’re close.”
Arkansas has gone to overtime in three of its five conference games, beating Kentucky and losing to Florida and Georgia. The Razorbacks also have opened up at least a six-point lead in the second half in their past four games, but have struggled to make plays down the stretch. Arkansas is 1-3 in those games.
It included Wednesday’s loss at Tennessee, when the Razorbacks outplayed the Vols much of the night. Arkansas led by as many as eight points in the second half, but was outscored 26-11 in the final 11:30 and suffered its second straight loss.
The loss dropped Arkansas to 0-3 on the road this season and 2-21 under Anderson.
“It’s agonizing because you know the student-athletes are working so hard and they want to win,” Long said. “We know how much time and effort the coaches put in. We want to see them realize that success and be successful.
“Mike is an incredible coach. I’m very much behind him and looking forward to him getting that success. We will celebrate and enjoy that success together.”
Qualls, Harris Sit
Anderson said he needed more blue-collar players on the floor to battle with Tennessee. It meant Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris — who entered the game as two of the team’s top four scorers — sat more than usual Wednesday night.
Qualls, Arkansas’ leading scorer, was bumped from the starting lineup and finished with 1 point in 10 minutes. Harris didn’t play much, either, going scoreless in six minutes. The two averaged 32 and 24.3 minutes a game in SEC play, respectively.
In their place, guards Kikko Haydar (21 minutes) and Mardracus Wade (12), and forwards Moses Kingsley (12) and Jacorey Williams (11) all played more than usual.
Arkansas’s struggles have been frustrating, but haven’t matched Auburn.
The Tigers fell to 0-5 in SEC play with an 82-75 loss at Mississippi State on Wednesday night. It was the program’s 15th straight SEC loss dating back to last season’s 49-37 win against Alabama.
Arkansas went 2-0 against the Tigers last season, beating them in Fayetteville (88-80 in overtime) and at Auburn (83-75). The Razorbacks have won six straight against the Tigers. Its last loss came was in 2010 (92-83 at Auburn).