Lofton's Plan B

When Chris Lofton's 3-point shots weren't falling last season, he was a non-factor for Tennessee's basketball team. Having no Plan B, he would simply stop firing and hope his teammates could pick up the slack.

It happened against LSU (0 for 4, 2 points). It happened against Mississippi State (2 for 6, 8 points). It happened against Vanderbilt (1 for 4, 7 points). It happened against Ole Miss (1 for 6, 12 points).

Well, times have changed. Last Saturday against East Tennessee State, the 6-foot-2 junior guard made just 1 of 5 shots from beyond the arc, yet he led all scorers with 28 points.

The reason: Lofton now has a Plan B. When his 3-point bombs are missing the mark these days, he'll try to take his man off the dribble. This enables him to shoot a few layups and a bunch of free throws.

Head coach Bruce Pearl came up with the idea late last season, when teams began using gadget defenses to try and nullify Lofton's incredible scoring prowess from beyond the 3-point arc. If nothing else, the coach figured attacking the rim would get Lofton to the foul line, where he is an 89-percent shooter for his career.

Pearl's plan is looking downright brilliant these days. Fourteen games into the 2006-07 season Lofton already has shot 75 free throws ... 15 more than he attempted in 30 games last season.

The "new and improved" Chris Lofton was never more evident than last weekend against ETSU. He hit a school-record 13 of 13 from the foul line and finished six drives to the basket, generating 25 of his 28 points INSIDE the 3-point arc.

Afterwards, Lofton bemoaned his 3-point shooting but conceded that his free-throw shooting bailed him out.

"Personally, I didn't show up to play tonight," he said. "Luckily, I got to the free throw line."

Indeed. Lofton scored on two drives, four free throws and just one 3-pointer as the Vols built a 35-17 cushion 13 minutes into the ETSU game. He didn't score the last six minutes of the first half or the first five minutes of the second half, however, and the Bucs rallied to grab a 58-52 lead.

With his 3-point shot failing him, Lofton resumed his attack on the rim at this point. After scoring on a backdoor cut, two free throws and a driving three-point play, he finished another drive – accounting for nine points in 24-6 Vol spurt that turned the six-point deficit into a 12-point lead.

ETSU didn't fold, however. The visitors pulled within 83-76 but Lofton stalled the rally with another nifty drive. When ETSU narrowed the gap to six points (87-81) inside the final minute, Lofton basically became the point guard – handling the ball on each possession as the Bucs were forced to foul. He went 6 of 6 from the line in the final 37 seconds to seal the victory.

Asked about his clutch play down the stretch, Lofton replied: "I just tried to pick my spots, run the play calls and do what Coach wants me to do."

Basically, what "Coach" wants Lofton to do is score points. Whether they arrive via 3-pointers, drives or foul shots is immaterial.

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