Vols maul Middle, 83-52

After playing passively in two exhibition games, Tennessee's Chris Lofton came out firing in Friday night's regular-season opener against Middle Tennessee, draining two 3-pointers in the game's first two minutes.

Incredibly, he would not score again. Saddled by foul trouble, the preseason All-American finished with 6 points in 21 minutes. It didn't matter, though. Reserves produced better than half of the Vols' points in an 83-52 romp.

Starting guard JaJuan Smith led UT's scoring with 16 points and starting forward Dane Bradshaw added 12. Otherwise, the damage came from Big Orange reserves, who outscored the starters 42-41.

Freshman wing Josh Tabb contributed 13 points and 4 rebounds in 19 sterling minutes. Despite foul troubles of his own, 6-9 freshman post Wayne Chism added 10 points and 7 rebounds in just 11 minutes. Ryan Childress added 10 points and 5 rebounds in 17 minutes. Anthony Passley contributed 6 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals in 14 minutes.

So, on a night when its superstar was limited to 6 points, Tennessee still won by 31.

"It's great to have such an unselfish guy as your leading scorer," Bradshaw said of Lofton. "I don't think many teams have that, and that (unselfishness) flows throughout the team."

Even counting the two exhibition games, Lofton's biggest scoring output to date was 10 points. That may worry UT fans but it doesn't worry Bradshaw.

"We know his time will come," the senior forward said. "He'll be fine, and he'll be our leading scorer."

Lofton wasn't the only starter who struggled. Freshman point guard Ramar Smith hit just 1 of 5 floor shots and committed 3 turnovers in 20 minutes. Freshman post Duke Crews hit 2 of 6 and registered just 5 points and 2 rebounds in 21 minutes. JaJuan Smith scored 14 first-half points, then pulled a calf muscle and missed most of the second half.

"It's a good sign," head coach Bruce Pearl said, "that not everybody plays their best game and we still win by 30."

Pearl also was pleased that the Vols could score so many points on a night when Lofton contributed so few, noting: "That's good balance, when you have five guys in double figures and Chris isn't one of them."

Tennessee won with two things it seriously lacked last year – defense and depth.

The 2005-06 team forced a lot of turnovers but couldn't protect the basket once an opponent broke the fullcourt press. That wasn't the case Friday night, as the Vols forced 22 turnovers AND limited Middle Tennessee to 34.7 percent shooting.

Depth was just as crucial. Eleven Vols saw action in the first half and 10 wound up with double-figure minutes as the home team wore down the Blue Raiders. After shooting 39 percent the first half, the visitors hit just 31 percent in the second half. And, after outrebounding UT 19-18 in the first half, the Blue Raiders lost the boards 26-14 in the second.

"This is a lot deeper team than last year, especially at the guard spots," Bradshaw said. "We're playing so well 1 through 10 right now. You almost expect one guy to be struggling but everyone's bringing their A game."

The Vols will need their A game Monday, when they face Fordham in Round 1 of the preseason NIT. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. EST at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville.

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