FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — Once again against Tennessee, Michael Qualls and his Arkansas teammates struggled early to find their rhythm.
The other half of the Razorbacks top scoring duo wasn't about let history repeat itself against the Volunteers.
Qualls has 17 points, 14 in the second half, as Arkansas (16-4, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) atoned for an earlier loss by rallying in the second half for a 69-64 win over Tennessee on Tuesday night.
The SEC's fourth-leading scorer had plenty of help from teammate Bobby Portis, the conference's leading scorer, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds.
The Razorbacks struggled for much of a 74-69 loss in Knoxville two weeks ago, but Qualls finished 5 of 11 from the field after hitting just one of his first five shots. Arkansas has now won three straight games by five points or less, and their 20-game start is the school's best since a 17-3 record to open the 1997-98 season.
"No matter how I start, I always want to finish better," Qualls said. "... If I come out in the first half playing well, then the second half I still want to play better. And if I come out in the first half not as well, of course I've got to pick it up."
Josh Richardson had 17 points to lead Tennessee (12-7, 4-3), which lost on the road in conference play for the first time this season. The Volunteers were trying to improve to 4-0 away from home in the SEC for the first time since 1982.
Despite letting a five-point second-half lead slip away, Tennessee had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds when Robert Hubbs had an open 3-point attempt with Arkansas leading 67-64. However, his shot off a pass from Richardson bounced off the rim — with Qualls corralling the rebound with 2.3 seconds remaining and hitting two free throws to secure the Razorbacks win.
"I'll let Robert have that shot every time," Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall said. "He'll make the next one."
Hubbs finished with 15 points, while Armani Moore had 12 and Kevin Punter 10 for the Volunteers.
Tennessee, which harassed Arkansas into a season-high 18 turnovers two weeks ago, led 50-45 midway through the second half after a 3-pointer by Detrick Mostella.
Led by Qualls, the Razorbacks responded with a 9-0 run to take a 54-50 lead. Qualls, who struggled with just three points in the first half, had the final six points of the run — including a 3-pointer to give Arkansas its largest lead since opening the game on a 7-0 run.
"I thought in the first half Mike let his emotions show," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. "... I thought the second half he brought that energy we've got to have."
The Razorbacks took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Ky Madden to go up 63-60, and it was Madden who added the free throws to go up 67-62.
Arkansas once again matched its season high with 18 turnovers against the Volunteers, but they recovered from a 21-13 rebounding deficit to finish the game tied 31-31 in rebounds.
Alandise Harris and Anton Beard finished with 10 points each for the Razorbacks.
Hubbs, who had a career-high 16 points in the earlier win over Arkansas, had 12 of his points in the first half.
"We had a good look there at the end," Tyndall said. "That's life on the road, and that's a good team that just beat us."
Tennessee: The Volunteers had won eight of their last 10 games, and they were seeking Tyndall's 100th win as a head coach.
Arkansas: Beard, who missed three free throws with 5.1 seconds remaining that would have tied the earlier game with Tennessee, scored all of his points in the first half. The freshman has now scored in double figures in three of the last five games for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas junior Jacorey Williams, who tried to play despite battling an illness, vomited on the Razorbacks bench and Beard during a break in the first half — causing Beard to switch from his usual No. 31 jersey to No. 15 for the remainder of the game. Williams played only five minutes and didn't return after becoming sick.
Tennessee returns home to host Auburn and former coach Bruce Pearl on Saturday.
Arkansas travels to Florida on Saturday.