FAYETTEVILLE -- They came from near and far. Young and old. Difference-makers each and all. They form Razorback Nation, which became legendary in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
Saturday, for 38 minutes they were good, and in the last two minutes they became a vocal riot as Walton Arena reverberated with Hog calls, jeers and cheers.
Without the sellout crowd the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville might not have gotten to overtime. The crowd lifted its team, which trailed for more than 39 minutes and by as much as 10.
In the last two minutes of regulation, the Razorbacks breathed in the atmosphere and nailed down their defense. They forced Tennessee to go one-on-one, which is not the Vols' game.
Two plays brought the hammer down in the crowd, and both were the result of steals by Jaylen Barford. The first led to Daniel Gafford's offensive putback to cut the Vols lead to 70-67.
The last steal was in overtime with the Hogs clinging to a 79-78 lead. Barford took the ball and raced to the other end for a layup, part of a 12-0 run that left the well-coached and disciplined Vols facing a hill that looked like a raging red mountain.
All in attendance were hometown heroes on a freezing Saturday afternoon, from the floor to the stands.
In the first half, primarily dominated by Tennessee, the Hogs were hurt by Gafford being on the bench with two fouls.
In the second half, the Vols slacked off the freshman from El Dorado. The ball wasn't going inside, and they picked up their perimeter defense.
Down nine with 8:59 to play, the Hogs did go inside to Gafford twice for a pair of baskets, then a third time to draw a foul on the Vols.
Tennessee was living on free throws for a couple of minutes and it looked as if the referees might make it a free-throw contest, but when Daryl Macon nailed a three and Barford got that steal the crowd was on its feet and the Hogs on their toes.
With 44 seconds to play, Macon made a perfect pass to Gafford who dunked the Hogs to their first lead of the game, 73-72, and you couldn't have heard a bomb go off in your lap.
Tennessee would rally in overtime, get it to 93-91 with eight seconds to play, and the hoarse crowd watched as Macon iced the game with two free throws.
Look out Top 25 rankings, here come the Hogs.
The refs would erroneously give the Vols free throws with 1.5 seconds, but they couldn't overcome the magic of a Bud Walton crowd and a band of hard-nosed Razorbacks who know how to suck a win out of the jaws of a loss with pressure defense.
While they spent too much time early on looking for jump shots, down the stretch they knew the value of an assist and making the ball go inside out.
Tennessee played like a veteran team that knows a little about hostile environments -- and Bud Walton came out roaring like it was the early 1990s -- but then that's what you expect from Rick Barnes, who is in his 30th season as a head coach.
Barnes made regular visits to North Carolina and Duke as the coach at Clemson. At Texas, he traveled to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. He also has 20 NCAA Tournament appearances.
He was as calm when his team led by 10 as he was when the Razorbacks tied it at 26-26, which was when Gafford picked up his second foul and the Hogs were outscored 12-5 to trail 38-31 at intermission.
In the final seconds of overtime, he had his team scrapping and scrambling but he had never really experienced Hawgball. That's when 18,700 people breathed life into their team and went home winners.
Sports on 12/31/2017
Print Headline: Crowd's roar introduces Vols to Hawgball