Lofton goes hog wild

When Arkansas whittled a 12-point deficit to three with 2:25 to go Saturday at Bud Walton Arena, the Tennessee Vols appeared on the verge of yet another Southeastern Conference road disappointment.

Not this time, though. Ramar Smith, whose driving five-footer in the final 35 seconds beat Alabama on Wednesday night, came through again. This time the 6-2 freshman guard sparked a 10-2 finishing kick that produced an 83-72 victory.

With Tennessee clinging to a scant 73-70 lead, Smith fed fellow freshman Wayne Chism for a dunk. After Chris Lofton made a driving layup off a sidecourt inbounds play, Smith made perhaps the game's biggest play – swatting a loose ball to JaJuan Smith for a layup that produced a 79-70 lead with just 1:02 remaining.

Appropriately, Ramar Smith punctuated Tennessee's first SEC road win in seven tries by scoring the game's final points on a tip-in.

The Vols, now 20-9 overall and 8-6 in league play, surely wrapped up a bid to the NCAA Tournament with the win.

On his post-game radio show, UT coach Bruce Pearl recalled telling his players prior to the game: "Win it, we're in it."

Pearl now has 14 seasons of 20 or more wins in his 15 years as a head coach. Arkansas slips to 16-12 and 5-9 with the loss.

Chris Lofton paced the Vol offense with 31 points, hitting 10 of 19 from the field, 4 of 12 from beyond the arc and 7 of 8 from the foul line. JaJuan Smith chipped in 16 points and Wayne Chism 14. Ramar Smith finished with 9 points, 5 assists and just 1 turnover in 26 minutes at the point.

Sonny Weems scored 18 points and Darian Townes 12 for the Razorbacks.

Tennessee used the same formula Saturday against Arkansas that worked so well against Bama on Wednesday night: Force a bunch of turnovers and take a bunch of shots. The Vols forced 23 turnovers and took 23 more shots (72-49) than the Razorbacks. Against Alabama UT forced 26 turnovers and took 26 more shots (81-55).

"We couldn't play good to win this game; we had to play great," Pearl said. "The kids played one of the best games of the year."

This was a game of spurts. Tennessee used an 11-0 spurt to go up 11-2. Arkansas answered with a 9-0 spurt moments later to pull even at 13-all. An 11-2 Vol run produced a 28-17 lead but the Razorbacks closed the half with a 19-5 run that produced a 36-33 intermission lead. A 3-pointer by Lofton gave Tennessee a 69-57 lead with 6:52 to play but Arkansas pulled within three, setting up Ramar Smith's late heroics.

Lofton scored 16 of Tennessee's 33 first-half points, single-handedly keeping the Vols in the game for a while.

"Five kind of put us on his back there," Pearl said, referring to Lofton's jersey number. "The opponent's got to go ‘uh-oh' when he's going like that."

Tennessee hosts defending national champ Florida Tuesday night at 9. ESPN will have the telecast.

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