Sophomore Ramar Smith took it from there, scoring 10 second-half points as the seventh-ranked Vols opened the season with an 80-63 defeat of Temple before a capacity crowd of 21,817 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Lofton, regarded by many as the premier shooter in college basketball, did not look the part on this night. He finished 1 of 8 from the floor, including 0 of 5 from behind the 3-point line.
"His shot doesn't look good right now," Pearl conceded. "I'm sure that's not something that's going to last."
Temple grabbed an early 14-9 lead but it certainly didn't last. A 3-pointer by JaJuan Smith ignited a 16-2 spurt that put Tennessee on top 25-16. He scored seven consecutive UT points late in the half, helping the Vols take a 39-24 lead to the locker room.
At the break JaJuan was 5 of 6 from the floor; the rest of the team 9 of 29. He had 4 steals; the rest of the team 2.
"JaJuan has emerged as our leader," Pearl said. "He's been ready to play. He's been practicing like that the last couple of weeks…. The fact he played well early gave our guys enough confidence to withstand the punches we took and play through it. That was wonderful to see."
JaJuan clearly relishes his leadership role, noting: "I think I came out and gave us energy. I tried to keep us pumped up…. I'm the oldest guy on the floor, so I've been there and done that."
JaJuan was 0-for-3 from the floor and scoreless in the second half but it didn't matter. Ramar Smith took control of the final 20 minutes, hitting 5 of 9 shots – most coming on acrobatic drives to the basket. His 10 second-half points gave him 14 for the night.
Wayne Chism added 11 points and Lofton chipped in 10 by going 8 of 8 from the foul line. Iowa transfer Tyler Smith scored just 9 points but contributed 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals in 24 solid minutes. Josh Tabb had a fine game off the bench, hitting 3 of 4 shots en route to 7 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds (4 of them off the offensive glass).
Guards Dionte Christmas (12) and Mark Tyndale (11), the two top returning scorers in the Atlantic 10, paced Temple's attack. Christmas made just 3 of 13 from the floor, however, and Tyndale 4 of 13. As a team, the Owls shot just 39 percent from the field, including an icy 17.6 (3 of 17) from 3-point range.
Tennessee shot a so-so 46 percent from the floor and a mediocre 27.3 percent (6 of 22) from beyond the arc. The Vols outrebounded Temple 40-37 and forced 23 turnovers.
Ultimately, Tennessee won handily on a night when its superstar did not perform like a superstar. Still, one teammate thinks the Chris Lofton of old will emerge soon.
"Chris came out and he was struggling but we're not worried about his offense," JaJuan Smith said. "Chris is capable of coming out next game and putting up 45."