UT mauls Boll Weevils, 101-44

The 17,946 fans gathered at Thompson-Boling Arena roared their approval when Chris Lofton nailed a 3-point basket with 7:44 left in Wednesday night's game with Div. II Arkansas-Monticello.

It wasn't a spectacular shot. It wasn't a shot that gave the Vols the lead. It wasn't even a shot that pushed UT's score past the century mark. It was the All-American's first 3 of the season after seven misses – a notable achievement in an otherwise lackluster 101-44 Vol victory.

Lofton was 0-for-5 from beyond the arc in Game 1 against Temple and missed his first two treys Wednesday night. After his crowd-pleasing success, he missed twice more, leaving him 1-for-10 on the season. All shooters have slumps and there is no doubt that Lofton will snap out of his. The question is: When?

"When we need him," head coach Bruce Pearl said, "he'll be there."

Teammates are equally confident that Lofton's early-season woes will end soon.

"He's our horse and we're going to keep feeding him," fellow senior Jordan Howell said. "He's the best shooter in the country, and he's going to get hot. I'll take him shooting the 3 any day."

The Vols have plenty of set plays for Lofton but didn't bother to use many of them, given the lopsided nature of Wednesday's contest. Even so, the 6-2 senior got some good looks in transition. The shots just didn't fall ... except the one that got the ovation.

"I don't know how he took that," Howell said, grinning smugly. "Maybe he thought, 'This just shows that everybody knows I'm missing' or maybe he took it like 'Finally, I hit one.'"

Regardless of how he took it, the crowd meant it as a show of support for one of the most popular Vols of the past 20 years. Lofton routinely gets a huge ovation during pre-game warmups and another one each time he makes a shot. He didn't keep the crowd waiting long Wednesday night, scoring on a driving layup off a steal just seven seconds into the game.

Lofton tried just three more shots all half – two of them from beyond the arc – and misfired each time. He tried but three shots after intermission – all 3s – and finished the evening 2 of 7. His two-game stats show him hitting 20 percent from the floor (3 of 15) and 10 percent from beyond the arc (1 of 10).

There is nothing, of course, that Lofton's teammates can do to help the 2006-07 SEC Player of the Year escape his doldrums.

"When you have the best shooter in the country, there's nothing anybody else can tell him to help him," Howell said. "He knows what he's doing and he knows he's the best shooter in the country.

"He'll come out of it. I know when we play a big-name program he's going to bring it. He's done it for three years, and he'll do it this year. It's just a matter of time."

As for the game, there wasn't much of one. Tennessee's defense forced seven turnovers and limited Monticello to 3-of-13 shooting en route to a 26-8 lead just 8½ minutes into the action. The fans seemed to lose interest at this point, and so did the Vols.

The Big Orange added just two more points to the margin over the half's final 11:30, taking a 45-25 lead to the locker room. After a motivational speech from Pearl, they opened the second half with a 19-8 spurt that widened the gap to 64-33 and ended what little suspense the game provided.

Pearl said that he thought his guys played hard "given the circumstances." He also was pleased that Tennessee limited the Boll Weevils to 25-percent shooting, including a frigid 14.3 percent (4 of 28) after halftime.

Exhibiting great balance, Tennessee got 15 points from Tyler Smith, 14 from JaJuan Smith, 13 from Wayne Chism, 12 from Ramar Smith and 10 from Howell, who also contributed 5 assists in an 18-minute relief stint.

Although the Vols forced 26 turnovers, Pearl was disappointed with the team's fullcourt press. The coach was very pleased, however, with the play of Duke Crews. Seeing action for the first time following a preseason suspension, Crews contributed 5 points, 4 rebounds and a blocked shot in nine solid minutes.

The Vols (2-0) return to action Friday night, hosting Prairie View A&M at 7:30.


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