Ironically, Lofton's shining moment came at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. On his last visit there he and Ramar Smith missed the front of 1-and-1s in the final 30 seconds that proved critical in a 68-66 regular-season loss to Ohio State.
"It was interesting that it was Ohio State were we missed the free throws – Chris in particular – and it was Chris that made the free throws to get us to Ohio State next time around," head coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game show.
Lofton finished Sunday's game with 20 points for the Vols, now 24-10. JaJuan Smith scored13 second-half points to finish with 16. Wayne Chism added 13, despite missing 15 minutes of the second half with foul trouble. Ohio native Ryan Childress (Cincinnati) came off the bench to contribute 10 points and 8 rebounds.
Perhaps the game's key moment came with Tennessee leading 61-59. As the shot clock ticked down to two seconds, JaJuan Smith forced a 3-point try from the top of the key that banked in, boosting the lead to 64-59.
"That was the first time in my career I ever heard Coach say 'Shoot it!' with me that far out," said Smith, who has never met a shot he didn't like. "I just let it go. I had the green light, and it was just one of them things; it went in at the right time."
Smith made another 3 moments later, helping Tennessee pad its lead to 69-63 with 1:20 remaining. Virginia closed to 69-67 but Childress sank two clutch free throws with 27.7 seconds left.
Lofton took it from there, making two free throws each at 18.7 seconds, 10.2 seconds and 5.9 seconds. Following the last pair Virginia's Sean Singletary unloaded a potential game-tying 3-pointer but it rimmed out at the buzzer, sending UT to the Sweet 16 for just the third time in program history. The 1981 Vols made it via a first-round bye and a second-round defeat of Virginia Commonwealth. The 2000 Vols made it by beating Louisiana-Lafayette and Connecticut.
Reynolds hit 6 of 10 shots, including 4 of 8 from beyond the arc, in a mind-boggling first-half performance. A mild ankle sprain helped Tennessee put the clamps on him in the second half, however, and he scored just four points after intermission.
"In the first half we let that number 2 kill us," JaJuan Smith said. "We just knew we were going to have to contain the guards to move forward."
With Reynolds contained, backcourt mate Singletary stepped up in a big way, scoring 15 of his 19 points in the second half to keep Virginia in the game.
Ultimately, the outcome would hinge on Lofton's ability to get open for inbounds passes, then make clutch free throws down the stretch. Three times in the final 20 seconds Dane Bradshaw inbounded the ball to Lofton. Three times he came through at the foul line.
"We have other guys that are capable of stepping up to hit those free throws," Bradshaw noted. "But the way Chris was stepping up time and time again, I wanted the ball in his hands.
"I know he's not someone who's going to run away from the ball. He's going to continue to work to get open and put us on his shoulders at the free throw line. Our entire season rested on him toward the end of the game, and he redeemed himself on the Ohio State court that we've all kind of joked with him about.
"Coach (Steve) Forbes nicknamed him Buckeye."