Sundiata Gaines scored 18 to pace Georgia, which slips to 17-12 overall and 8-8 in league play. Takais Brown added 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulldogs, who have dropped their last six meetings with Tennessee.
Tennessee stormed to an early 25-13 lead but went ice cold when its top two scorers – Lofton and JaJuan Smith – went to the bench with two fouls each. The Vols' offensive struggles continued at the start of the second half, enabling the Bulldogs to make a 17-8 run that turned a 33-30 halftime deficit into a 47-41 lead. Still, the Vols never panicked.
"You've got to have patience," head coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game show. "It's not a sprint; it's kind of a marathon."
Ramar Smith came up big at this point. He fed JaJuan Smith for a layup, then drained a 3-pointer to pull the Vols within 47-46. Moments later, Ramar assisted Wayne Chism for a layup that tied the score at 50. After a bucket by Georgia's Levi Stukes, Ramar tied the score at 52 on a nifty drive.
After another bucket by Stukes gave Georgia a 54-52 lead, Lofton put the Vols on his shoulders and carried them to the finish line. He drained back-to-back 3-poiners, then scored on a steal and drive – single handedly outscoring Georgia 8-2 as Tennessee surged ahead 60-56. Chism then dropped a bomb from the top of the key, and it was 63-56 with 2:22 remaining.
Lofton hit three free throws, Ramar Smith and Dane Bradshaw two each to help Tennessee hold on down the stretch.
A key to the game – as was the case when Tennessee won 82-71 Jan. 31 in Knoxville – was 3-point shooting. The Vols made 11 of 26 this time, Georgia just 5 of 21. Stukes, the leading 3-point shooter in Bulldog history, was 0 of 6 from beyond the arc.
"He's obviously better from three than two," Pearl said. "We really felt like this Georgia basketball team was relying on the three-ball. They had 12 threes against Mississippi State, they had 11 threes at Kentucky, and we were bound and determined to not let them beat us from the 3-point line."
Tennessee returns to action Thursday in Round 1 of the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. As the No. 3 seed from the East, the Vols will face LSU, the No. 6 seed from the West, at 9:45 p.m.