Bad News For SEC, Lofton Shows He's Back

FAYETTEVILLE -- Chris Lofton's right ankle feels just fine, and there was never any doubt about his shooting touch.

With his ankle feeling better than it has in weeks, Lofton showed Saturday afternoon why he's considered the premier shooter in the Southeastern Conference. He drained four 3-pointers, had no problem driving to the basket and kept scoring regardless of which Arkansas player was defending him.

Lofton made it look easy. And in the process, the shooting guard answered any questions about how his right ankle feels by scoring a game-high 31 points in Tennessee's 83-72 win in Bud Walton Arena.

"Unfortunately for us, this is probably as healthy as Lofton has probably been in about -- I don't know -- two or three weeks," Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. "He didn't have those black bands he was wearing for his ankle, and when I saw that, I realized he was probably back to normal."

When Lofton is "back to normal," that's usually a good sign for the Volunteers (20-9, 8-6) and a tough matchup for the other SEC teams.

The 6-foot-2 junior entered Saturday as the league's leading scorer (at 20.4 points per game), and he's beginning to regain the explosiveness that he had before he missed four games because of a sprained right ankle suffered in a Jan. 20 win over South Carolina.

Lofton got off to a fast start Saturday, beating Arkansas point guard Sean McCurdy off the dribble to drain a 3-pointer and make a pair of layups to score seven of Tennessee's first nine points.

"It's like, 'Uh oh, (No.) 5 is back.'" Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said, referring to Lofton.

Heath tried using several different defenders on Lofton, but it didn't seem to matter whether it was McCurdy, point guard Gary Ervin, guard Patrick Beverley or forward Sonny Weems who had the tough task of trying to slow down the junior.

Lofton scored 15 of Tennessee's 33 points in the first half, added another 16 points in the second half and helped bolster the Volunteers' case for making the NCAA Tournament by winning their first SEC road game of the season.

"The magic number was 20, and now we've got 20 wins," Lofton said. "That's all we've been talking about all week, is get that 20th win. This was a must-win for us."

Lofton provided some much-needed scoring, and when he wasn't on the floor, the Volunteers struggled offensively. For the five minutes that Lofton was on the bench in the first half, Arkansas outscored Tennessee 14-0.

But it was apparent that the Razorbacks didn't have enough answers for slowing down Lofton over the remainder of Saturday's loss.

"I tried to get some easy buckets first. (I) tried to get some layups, (and I) tried to get some free throws to get me going," Lofton said. "I still didn't play well from the 3-point line, but everything else was all right."

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