Stripe struggles end ... for now

The Tennessee Vols made just 14 of 24 free throws in Game 3 vs. UNC-Wilmington. They made 12 of 22 in Game 5 vs. Butler, 10 of 18 in Game 7 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette and 19 of 32 in Game 11 vs. Oklahoma State.

The fact UT was shooting a mediocre 64.8 percent as a team from the foul line made Saturday night's performance against East Tennessee State all the more startling. The Vols drained 30 of 35 tries (85.7 percent). Moreover, they sank 15 of their last 16, including 10 of 10 over the game's final 5:08.

Head coach Bruce Pearl was understandably elated.

"That's the best we've shot free throws," he said. "We were a team that was obviously struggling at the line."

Tennessee's earlier free-throw woes could be traced in part to the fact freshmen were taking many of the foul shots. Even sharpshooting junior Chris Lofton was struggling at the stripe, however. After missing just 11 free throws (in 101 attempts) through his first two years on campus, he missed 12 (in 47 attempts) through the first 11 games of 2006-07. An 89-percent foul shooter entering the current season, he was hitting just 74 percent 11 games into 2006-07.

Since that slow start, however, Lofton has hit 27 of 28 tries, including 13 of 13 against ETSU. Meanwhile, three rookies who struggled at the line earlier this season – Wayne Chism (6 of 6), Duke Crews (3 of 3) and Ramar Smith (3 of 3) – combined to make 12 of 12 vs. the Bucs.

"Wayne makes all six, Chris makes all 13, Ramar makes all of his, Duke makes all of his," Pearl noted. "That's some real progress there. A lot of guys stepped up and made foul shots."

Lofton's 13-for-13 effort broke the school's single-game record. Asked about the accomplishment moments after the game ended, however, he seemed unaware that he had achieved a milestone.

"I didn't even know," he said, smiling sheepishly.

Then, in typical Lofton fashion, he shifted the focus from his accomplishments to his shortcomings.

"I'm disappointed in how I played," he said. "It was a bad night, offensively and defensively."

Maybe, but it was a great night from the foul line, for Tennessee and for Lofton.

SUNDAY'S TIPOFF SET

Sunday's Southeastern Conference opener against Mississippi State will start at 4 p.m., with TV coverage provided by Lincoln Financial Sports (WVLT-TV in Knoxville).


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