Lofton's ankle isn't broken

The biggest positive in Tennessee basketball today was a negative. The best break was the fact there was no break. Translation: X-rays of Chris Lofton's injured right ankle were negative, meaning it's sprained and not broken.

Still, head coach Bruce Pearl said Lofton will not play in Wednesday night's game at Ole Miss. The high-scoring junior guard's status beyond that is uncertain, the coach said, because doctors "have no way of knowing" how the ankle will respond to treatment.

Pearl said he has not decided who will start in Lofton's absence. Junior combo guard Jordan Howell essentially filled the off-guard spot after Lofton was hurt with 18:11 to play in Saturday night's 64-61 defeat of South Carolina. Freshman wing Josh Tabb saw a career-high 28 minutes of action against the Gamecocks, however, and also looms as an option.

The obvious problem: Howell averages 3.1 points per game, Tabb 3.0. Who's going to pick up the scoring slack minus Lofton's 21.5 points per game?

"It changes roles a little bit," Pearl said. "Everybody's got to be a little more aggressive looking for their shots and ways they can score.... It'll be a shared responsibility."

Pearl said Lofton's teammates were "real business-like" when they showed up for Monday morning's weight-lifting session. Perhaps they are in shock. Losing your star player – even for a short time – is a sobering experience.

A pre-season candidate for the Wooden and Naismith awards, Lofton's career 3-point percentage of 45.2 (277-of-613) ranks second in SEC history and his 277 career 3-pointers are eighth in league history.

Throughout Tennessee's recent nine-game winning streak, Pearl said the key to victory was "getting the ball to Number 5" at crunch time. Since that won't be an option Wednesday night, who gets the ball in the clutch situations now?

"I hope we get a crunch-time possession to win," Pearl said. "If we do, I think it would go to the hot hand."

Or maybe the ball will go to the cool head. That would be senior Dane Bradshaw. Tennessee's offense always seems to run through him in clutch situations. He rarely scores but he excels at setting up others for key baskets.

"Down the stretch ... we put the ball in Bradshaw's hands, and he made plays," Pearl noted. "Sometimes he made passes; sometimes he got to the rim himself. But the ball was in his hands."

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