"He (6-5 Torrell Martin) had pretty good defense on me, and I didn't get a real clean look," Lofton said. "I just seen the goal and fired it up there."
"Chris is just amazing at shooting over a contested hand," said teammate Dane Bradshaw, who threw the inbounds pass to set up the game-winning bucket.
Vol senior Andre Patterson, who contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds, called the dramatic bucket "a great shot … the best shot I've seen all year."
Tennessee, now 22-7, advances to second-round play Saturday at 3:40. The opponent will be seventh-seeded Wichita State, which moved to 25-8 by hammering No. 10 seed Seton Hall 86-66.
Lofton finished with 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting.
"I wasn't hitting today, and I was getting a little frustrated," he said. "But I kept shooting and finally one went down for me."
Lofton hit 4 of 8 first-half attempts but was 0 of 5 in the second half until unloading the game-winner with around 2.2 seconds left. By the time the high-arching shot rattled into the net, the clock showed just 0:00.4. Still, the excitement wasn't quite over.
Winthrop's inbounds pass sailed the length of the floor and banged off the Eagles' backboard. The loose ball went to Winthrop's Craig Bradshaw, who missed a potential game-tying 7-foot half-hook at the buzzer.
"We played well," UT coach Bruce Pearl said, clearly relieved. "We had a lot of guys step up, and it was all we could do to win."
Tennessee senior point guard C.J. Watson had nine points but sat out nearly nine minutes of the second half with foul trouble. He picked up three first-half fouls and took a seat after picking up No. 4 with 16:05 to go. Jordan Howell ran the offense until Watson returned with 7:16 to go and Winthrop leading 58-56. Howell finished with a season-high 14 minutes.
"Jordan Howell was ready when called upon," Pearl said, "and he did a fine job."
Major Wingate (15 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks) made Tennessee's first basket in five minutes – a 15-footer that tied the score at 58 – then scored on a follow dunk to give the Vols a 60-58 lead with 4:36 to go. A James Shuler 3-pointer gave the Eagles a 61-60 edge with 3:25 to go. Dane Bradshaw tied the score with a free throw at the 2:42 mark.
Watson and Lofton missed open 3-pointers for Tennessee but Winthrop's Bradshaw did likewise. Tennessee rebounded with 40 seconds left and called timeout with 21.5 seconds to go. Dane Bradshaw was driving from the right wing when Pearl called time with 2.9 seconds left to set up the final shot.
"Coach thought Chris was a better option for some reason," Bradshaw quipped.
Martin scored 14 points to pace Winthrop, which bows out 23-8.
Despite the close call, Pearl was happy with the outcome.
"I'm very, very proud of my team," he said. "They played very well today. We had to step up and play really well to beat that team at the buzzer."