The 6-2 junior drained a clutch 3-pointer that boosted the lead to 70-65 with 3:54 remaining. After a Wayne Chism free throw and two by Lafayette's David Dees narrowed the gap to 71-66, Lofton made a backdoor cut, gathered in a nifty bounce pass from Dane Bradshaw and hit a layup that pushed the margin to 73-67 with 1:19 remaining.
Bradshaw and Jordan Howell – who made his first career start – hit two free throws each in the final minute to secure the final margin. The win snapped a two-game losing streak and improved Tennessee's record to 5-2. The Cajuns slipped to 1-4.
"Having Dane Bradshaw and Chris Lofton on the floor is such a settling factor," Vol head coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game radio show. "Chris was really feeling it tonight. He was hunting his shot and working to get open."
Despite Lafayette's unimposing record, Pearl believes the UT win was a significant step in his team's maturation and its quest for an NCAA Tournament bid.
"If an SEC team can't go on the road in a hostile environment, then we don't belong," he said. "There's a lot of growing up that took place out here. We have a lot of work to do but I'm really pleased with the win."
Lofton finished 12 of 17 from the floor, including 7 of 11 from 3-point range. He also dished out four assists and recorded four steals. JaJuan Smith was UT's only other double-figure scorer, finishing with 11. Wayne Chism finished with 9 points and 9 rebounds.
Ross Mouton scored 22 points and Dees 18 for Louisiana Lafayette.
Tennessee shot 46 percent from the floor and 11 of 30 from beyond the arc. The Vols were just 10 of 18 from the foul line for the game but hit 8 of 10 in the second half. Lafayette shot 50 percent from the floor and outrebounded the Vols 33-31. Tennessee's full-court press forced 20 turnovers, 14 coming in the first half.
"What it does is put you in position where, even though you're on the road, you're the aggressor," Pearl said of the press. "You're taking it to them on their home floor, and they're back on their heels a little bit."
Tennessee came out smoking, racing to a 20-10 lead midway through the first half. The Vols expanded the lead to 13 (35-22) before Tony Passley was called for a foul and then a technical foul on the same play. Lafayette scored on the two technical free throws and the ensuing possession and closed to 38-30 by intermission.
JaJuan Smith scored off his own inbounds steal to boost UT's lead to 51-34 with 17:07 to play but Lafayette refused to go quietly. Mouton nailed two 3s, two 15-footers and two free throws to spark 31-16 rally that pulled the hosts with 67-65, setting up Lofton's late heroics.
Smith, slowed by a flu virus all week, ran out of gas and could not play the game's final minutes.
"He gave us what he could," Pearl said. "He couldn't come in the last five minutes of the game, when the game was at crunch time. He had no energy."
Fortunately for Tennessee, Lofton had energy to spare.