Eighteen Big Orange turnovers proved decisive as the Razorbacks held on for a 68-65 victory.
Freshman Tobias Harris posted his fourth double/double of the year with 21 points and 11 rebounds. His last-second 3-point try from the right corner missed everything, however, as the Vols slipped to 10-5 overall and 0-1 in league play by losing for the fifth time in the past eight games.
It was the first time the Big Orange has dropped a league opener since Bruce Pearl was hired as head coach in 2005. Associate head coach Tony Jones filled in this time for Pearl, who missed the contest as part of an SEC-imposed eight-game suspension.
"They (Razorbacks) turned us over 18 times, and subsequently got 25 points off of those turnovers," Jones said on the post-game show. "They did what they've been doing."
Arkansas, now 11-3 overall, 1-0 in SEC play and 10-0 at home, extended a 30-29 halftime lead to 13 points (57-44) with 8:20 left. Two buckets by Harris, two free throws by Scotty Hopson and a 3-pointer by Melvin Goins fueled a 9-0 spurt that narrowed the gap to 57-53 with 5:48 remaining.
Delvon Johnson broke Arkansas's drought by hitting a layup with one second left on the shot clock and 5:06 left on the game clock. After a Brian Williams layup, Johnson scored a three-point play and Marshawn Powell added a layup as the lead swelled to 64-55.
Tennessee closed to 66-63 on a 3-pointer by Hopson with 1:03 remaining, then Johnson hit a free throw for the Razorbacks with 30 seconds left. A John Fields dunk narrowed the gap to 67-65 with 21 seconds to go but a Jeff Peterson free throw padded the margin to 68-65 with 19 seconds left.
Tennessee struggled mightily on its final possession, finally getting the ball to Harris just in time for him to rush a shot from the right corner at the buzzer.
The Razorbacks dominated inside as Johnson hit 7 of 11 shots en route to 17 points and Powell hit 7 of 12 en route to 14. Rotnei Clarke drained 4 of 6 shots from 3 and finished with 15 for the Hogs. Surprise starter Julysses Nobles (8 assists) hurt Tennessee with drive-and-dish plays. So did Peterson.
"We knew Nobles and Peterson were very good players," Jones said. "We tried to send them to the left but they did a great job with the left-to-right crossover. They got in the lane, and our bigs had to respect the penetration, then they lofted the ball up to their bigs. Those were back-breakers in some instances.
"We needed to do a better job of containing the ball-handler, not allowing him to get into the lane. We didn't. They made plays. Consequently, they won the game."
Hopson added 15 points and Goins 10 for Tennessee, which hosts Florida Tuesday night at 9.
The Vols grabbed 18 offensive rebounds Saturday on their way to a 38-24 advantage on the backboards. Tennessee's defense was ineffective, however, as the Razorbacks shot 50 percent (25 of 50) from the field and 46.2 percent (6 of 13) from 3. Tennessee hit 44.6 percent (25 of 56) from the field and 37.5 percent (6 of 16) from 3 but was done in by the rash of turnovers.
"I'm disappointed in the outcome, obviously," Jones said. "I thought our guys didn't come with the type of energy that we needed for 40 minutes to win in a tough environment."
The fact Tennessee trimmed a 13-point second-half deficit to two points in the final minute encouraged the Vol coach but not much.
"I'm happy and proud of the guys for not giving up and getting back in the basketball game and having an opportunity to send the game into overtime," he said, "but I'm definitely disappointed in the loss.
"I think we might've left one on the table tonight."