JaJuan heats up

If Tennessee guard JaJuan Smith were any hotter, he might be in danger of spontaneous combustion. The 6-foot-2 junior posted a career-best 23 points in Game 13 vs. Tennessee Tech, then matched that number Saturday night in Game 14 vs. East Tennessee State.

Over the past two outings JaJuan Smith has made 17 of 29 field goal tries (9 of 16 vs. Tech, 8 of 13 vs. ETSU), including 10 of 19 from 3-point range (5 of 10 vs. Tech, 5 of 9 vs. ETSU).

Head coach Bruce Pearl describes Smith's recent play as "terrific," noting: "This is back-to-back career highs for him."

Smith is a streaky shooter who is virtually unstoppable when he is "on" ... as he has been the past two games. Each time he drained his first shot and saw his confidence soar. Against ETSU he hit his first three shots – all 3-pointers – and added a pair of free throws, single-handedly outscoring the Bucs 11-2 in the game's opening 3:09.

"I just came out and hit my first shot; I told you that was very important to me," he said. "My teammates was getting me open shots, and I was feeling it."

Minutes after scoring UT's first 11 points, however, Smith went to the bench with two fouls. He would not score again the rest of the half.

"I was in foul trouble," he explained, "and couldn't ever get back in a rhythm."

That's not entirely true. Smith found a pretty good rhythm five minutes into the second half. He scored 10 points and fellow wing Chris Lofton added 9 in a 24-6 spurt that turned a 58-52 deficit into a 76-64 lead. Smith said he and Lofton feel compelled to pick up their youthful teammates at crunch time, noting: "We try to put ‘em on our backs and carry ‘em."

Tennessee led by 18 points in the first half, only to see ETSU make a 16-0 run. The Vols pulled ahead by 12 in the second half, only to see the Bucs pull within five (93-88) by game's end.

"Man, they just didn't give up," Smith said.

If Saturday night's struggle helps prepare UT for the tough SEC games that lie ahead, however, it could prove to be a blessing.

"Yes," Smith conceded. "You ain't always going to win by 30. This was a good learning experience for the older guys and the younger guys about to head into conference play.

"It was a lesson learned – that games can go like this – so when it happens in conference play we won't be surprised."

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