FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Daryl Macon came back to Arkansas for his senior year for a number of reasons, from bettering his professional prospects to improving on a second-round NCAA Tournament appearance last season.
None of those reasons meant as much to Macon as the environment in Bud Walton Arena on Saturday.
Led by Macon’s career-best 33 points, the Razorbacks (11-2, 1-0) rallied for a wild 95-93 overtime win over No. 19 Tennessee to open Southeastern Conference play. They did so despite trailing by nine points late in regulation, thanks in large part to Macon’s 13 points in the extra period — along with a career-high 28 points from his backcourt partner, Jaylen Barford.
When Arkansas’ lead grew to as many as 12 points in the overtime period, even Macon took a moment to soak in the raucous atmosphere from the 18,696 fans in Bud Walton Arena.
“I came back for this, a sold-out crowd at 12 p.m.,” Macon said. “That’s crazy.”
Macon and Barford combined to score 61 points for the Razorbacks, who are all but assured of the school’s first national ranking in nearly three years with the victory. Arkansas was last ranked near the end of the 2014-15 season, and it’s been 26th in each of the last two weeks in The Associated Press poll.
The Razorbacks have won six straight games, none in as emotional a fashion as Saturday.
Macon and Barford each finished 10 of 18 from the field, and they were a combined 15 of 16 on free throws — while the rest of Arkansas was 6 of 15 from the line. It was a memorable performance for the senior guard duo who each arrived in Fayetteville a year ago after a stop in the junior college ranks.
“Those guys, they have the confidence to go out and make plays,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “… It’s good when you can have guys who can make plays, it makes a big, big difference.”
Jordan Bone scored 21 points to lead the Volunteers (9-3, 0-1) and James Daniel III had 17. Admiral Schofield added 16 points before fouling out, while Grant Williams had 12 and Lamonte Turner 10 in the loss.
Arkansas took its first lead of the game at 73-72 in the final minute of regulation on a dunk by freshman Daniel Gafford, who finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and five blocks.
Tennessee led by nine points with 3:53 remaining in regulation, but it was outscored 12-3 in the closing minutes. That stretch included a sequence where Macon hit a 3-pointer, Barford stole the inbounds pass and Gafford immediately scored to close within 70-67.
“I didn’t think we handled the ball as well as I know we’re capable of in the backcourt,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “We felt any time we got into the halfcourt, we could get whatever we wanted.”
The Volunteers nearly recovered from a 12-point overtime deficit when they cut Arkansas’ lead to two in the closing seconds, but Macon hit 6 of 6 free throws in the extra period to help seal the remarkable comeback.
RIGHT AT HOME
The Razorbacks entered Saturday with an average margin of victory of 25.6 points per game at home this season, including a 16-point win over then-No. 14 Minnesota on Dec. 9. Against the Volunteers, however, Arkansas trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half before rallying — not that they were complaining about the end result afterward. “We had to just calm everybody down and play within ourselves, just keep playing and stop thinking so much,” Barford said.
Tennessee: The Volunteers dominated throughout regulation and led 70-61 with 3:53 remaining after two free throws by Schofield. However, Arkansas’ closing run and overtime surge kept Tennessee from winning its fifth game away from home over a Power 5 conference team this season.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks entered Saturday with their bench scoring an average of 31.8 points per game, but their reserves were outscored 33-5 by the Volunteers. Sophomore C.J. Jones, who came into the game averaging 10.5 points per game, was 1 of 5 from the field — including 0 of 3 on 3-pointers.
Tennessee hosts Auburn on Tuesday.
The Razorbacks are at Mississippi State on Tuesday.
Follow Kurt Voigt on Twitter at @Kurt_Voigt_AP