Tennessee head man Bruce Pearl called it "a good game between two teams that played terrific offensively," later noting that Appy State "is not a good defensive team … but neither are we."
The Vols appeared to be an awful defensive team in the first half. The Mountaineers hit seven of their first eight shots from 3-point range and grabbed a 41-29 lead with six minutes left to intermission.
Watson drained a 3-pointer to ignite a 19-2 explosion that gave the Vols a 48-43 lead but another Appy 3-pointer closed the gap to 48-46 by the break. The Mountaineers finished the half 8 of 12 from beyond the arc, the 12th and final attempt being a desperation 65-footer that bounded off the back of the rim at the buzzer.
Flashy 5-foot-8 point guard D.J. Thompson made just two of Appy's first-half treys but set up the others with some nifty penetrations.
"He was getting to the rim, then throwing the ball back out to the 3-point line," Pearl noted. "You're taught as a player to rotate, so you rotate down and leave the lane. But you're almost better off letting him go in for an uncontested layup than you are leaving the 3-point line."
Tennessee took a 57-49 lead by outscoring Appalachian State 9-3 to start the second half but the visitors wouldn't go quietly. Doug McLaughlin-Williams, who finished 5 for 5 from beyond the arc and led the Mountaineers with 21 points, nailed a 3 to tie the score at 65-all.
With six minutes to play and the Vols clinging to a 76-71 lead, Watson sandwiched two 3s around a six-footer by Stanley Asumnu. Still, the margin was just three points (84-81) when Watson stepped to the foul line with 1:23 to play. He made both free throws, then sank two more with 50.9 seconds left, stretching the lead to 88-81 and finally putting the game on ice.
Watson finished with a game-high 23 points, hitting seven of 10 from the field and five of seven from 3-point range. He also dished out five assists and recorded three steals. Lofton chipped in 15 points but hit just two of seven from beyond the arc.
Asumnu and Major Wingate added 12 points each and Andre Patterson came off the bench to contribute 11. Dane Bradshaw scored just four points but grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds, dished out a team-high six assists and blocked three shots.
Tennessee finished 54.1 percent from the floor, including 52.4 from 3-point range. Appy cooled off in the second half, hitting just 3 of 12 from beyond the arc. Still, the Mountaineers (now 3-4) finished 48.3 from the field and 45.8 from 3-point range.
Pearl recognizes his team's defensive shortcomings but says there isn't a lot he can do to fix them.
"To get better defensively, to be more fundamentally sound, to look like we're well-coached, I've got to drill them with repetition (in practice)," he said. "But I can't because I've got eight guys (in the playing rotation)."