Lofton's impact

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck … well, it might be a decoy. That was essentially the role Chris Lofton played for the Tennessee Vols in Tuesday night's 70-67 defeat of LSU.

Except for knee-length black socks, Chris Lofton looked the same as he did prior to the ankle injury that sidelined him for the previous four games. He walked the same (no limp) and sounded the same (quiet). He wasn't the Chris Lofton of old – scoring just 8 points, 13 below his average – but it didn't really matter. He was a heck of a decoy.

"Chris makes everybody better because when he's on the floor (the opponent) puts their attention on him and everybody gets better looks," Vol teammate Jordan Howell noted. "It opens up the floor for everybody. One of the first plays of the game Chris came off a ball screen and threw it in to Wayne (Chism) for a layup. That's what Chris does; he just brings another dimension to our team."

JaJuan Smith, the "other" wing, conceded that Lofton had much more impact on Tennessee's win than his scoring total might suggest.

"He draws a lot of attention. He's the main focus for the other team," Smith said. "Chris wasn't 100 percent but he sacrificed for the team, to open things up for the other players. Without him, it might have been a different outcome."

Although clearly rusty following his 15-day layoff, Lofton actually scored Tennessee's first points of the LSU game. Fouled by Garrett Temple on a 3-point attempt, Lofton drained all three free throws to give the Vols a 3-0 lead just 34 seconds into the action.

Head coach Bruce Pearl conceded that Lofton's greatest contribution was "just having him out there … to start the game making those three free throws and settle us down … and (enabling) us to go with a nine-man rotation."

Lofton added two more free throws minutes later. He finished the first half with 5 points and Tennessee finished it with a 39-34 lead.

Lofton brought the fans to their feet twice Tuesday night – once when he was introduced with the starting lineup and again when he hit his only basket of the night. That was one of his patented fall-away 3-pointers, giving Tennessee a 51-43 lead with 14:10 to play.

Those would be his final points of the night, however. He seemed a step slower than usual, and that made him somewhat of a liability on defense.

"He's a warrior," Pearl said, "but he had a hard time guarding. He really did. I actually yelled at him a couple of times about his defense. I think he was taken aback a little bit by that. I said, ‘Hey, if you're going to be out there on the floor, you've got to do what you've got to do.'"

Lofton wound up playing 21 minutes vs. LSU. With no practice scheduled today, he'll get a chance to rest his ankle and see how it responds to the stress of playing again. How he performs in Thursday's and Friday's practices will determine how much he plays in Saturday afternoon's home game against Vanderbilt.

Asked if Lofton will play more minutes vs. Vandy than he did vs. LSU, Pearl said that remains to be seen, adding: "I hope he can continue to play better and move better."

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