Vols crush 49ers, 121-86

After facing one of the NCAA's best defensive teams (LSU) in its last game of the regular season, Tennessee faced one of the NCAA's worst defensive teams (Long Beach State) in its first game of the postseason.

Scoring almost at will, the Vols routed the 49ers 121-86 Friday in Round 1 of the NCAA South Regional at Columbus, Ohio. Tennessee's point total tied the school record set Jan. 24, 1966 against Mexico and shattered its previous high for an NCAA Tournament game (97 points) set against Eastern Kentucky on March 9, 1979.

Tennessee plays its second-round game of the 2007 tourney Sunday at 12:10 against Virginia (21-10), an 84-57 winner against Albany in the other first-round game at Columbus.

Chris Lofton scored 25 points in just 24 minutes to pace the Vols, now 23-10. JaJuan Smith added 24 and Ramar Smith 22 – giving Tennessee's starting backcourt a combined 71 points. The Vols got a double-double from Duke Crews (12 points, 11 rebounds), 10 points from Wayne Chism and 11 assists from Dane Bradshaw. Chism suffered a slight concussion and missed the game's final 17 minutes.

Long Beach's backcourt was almost as productive as UT's. Kejuan Johnson (24), Aaron Nixon (23) and Kevin Houston (17) combined to score 61 points for the 49ers, who finish the season 24-8.

With minimal resistance from the 49ers, Tennessee shot a blistering 59 percent from the floor (43 of 73) and 51.8 percent from the 3-point line (14 of 27). The Vols piled up 25 assists, yet committed a mere 6 turnovers.

Long Beach – similar to UT in terms of its small lineup, its fast pace and its reliance on the 3-pointer – shot 49 percent from the floor (32 of 65) and a sizzling 57.1 percent from beyond the arc (12 of 21). The 49ers committed 13 turnovers, however, and lost the backboard battle 43-28.

"When they got us, they got a team just like them," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game show. "What they do is a little bit what we do, so we knew how to stop it."

Tennessee seemed exceptionally focused, hitting its first six 3-point attempts en route to a 29-12 lead. That may have been a reaction to last year's NCAA Tournament disappointment. A No. 2 seed, the 2006 Vols needed a last-second basket to nip Winthrop in last year's NCAA opener and then lost to unheralded Wichita State in Round 2.

"I think part of it was the experience of a year ago ... feeling like we left something on the table," Pearl said of the blazing start.

The Vols left nothing on the table this time. They relaxed a bit after grabbing the 29-12 lead, enabling the 49ers to pull within six at 41-35. Tennessee went to the break leading 57-45, however, then put the game on ice with a 16-2 outburst to open the second half.

"The start of the second half was the key for us," Bradshaw said. "We were able to stop them and get some easy buckets in transition."

The lead reached 30 points (114-84) with 2:13 remaining. Pearl cleared his bench moments later, and walk-on Tanner Wild punctuated the win by hitting his first basket of the season – banking home a 3-pointer – with four seconds left.

Although points were plentiful in Round 1, they won't come nearly so easily in Round 2. As Pearl noted: "We were able to spread the floor and just basically have our way.... But it's going to be a completely different story when we go up against Virginia on Sunday."

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