Vols win ugly, 89-75

Despite a lackluster effort that included a comically inept free-throw performance by Ramar Smith, the seventh-ranked Tennessee Vols held off Prairie View A&M 89-75 Friday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Incredibly, Smith was 0-for-12 from the foul line. His teammates weren't much better, hitting just 21 of 35 free throws. As a team, the Vols were 21 of 47 for a putrid 44.7 percent.

Tennessee was even colder from 3-point range, hitting just 4 of 21 (19.0 percent). The lethargic Vols allowed the smaller Panthers to outrebound them 48-43. Tennessee forced 30 turnovers but played too sloppily on offense to fully exploit them.

Tyler Smith paced the Vols (3-0) with 15 points. All-American Chris Lofton chipped in 14 but sank just 3 of 13 from the field and 2 of 7 from beyond the arc. He is now 3 of 17 on 3's this season. Ryan Childress came off the bench to add 14 points and 8 rebounds.

Aaron Smith nailed 5 of 9 shots from 3-point range and scored 21 points to pace Prairie View (1-2). The Panthers, 104-48 losers to Oklahoma State earlier this season, clearly caught Tennessee looking past them.

"We were not prepared mentally, I think," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game show, adding that "This was one of those nights that we could've got beat."

Tennessee probably would've gotten beat if it hadn't warmed up considerably in the second half. After shooting just 33 percent from the floor in the first half, the Vols hit 57 percent in the second. They also played better defensively after intermission.

"We did take control of a basketball game that was threatened," Pearl said. "That's a good sign ... that we were able to do that."

Still, the coach bemoaned his team's "tremendous inconsistency in play." He was particularly upset with his point guards, Ramar Smith and Jordan Howell.

"Jordan had three assists and Ramar had two," Pearl noted. "We only had five assists at the point guard position, so I'm going to put it on the point guards.... I'm very, very unhappy with the point-guard play."

The game's tone was set in the opening minutes. The visitors converted back-to-back Ramar Smith turnovers into two quick baskets and a 5-0 lead. Tennessee rallied to go up 7-5 but a 6-0 run by Prairie View gave the Panthers a lead they would not surrender en route to a 36-35 halftime edge.

Tennessee forced four turnovers in the opening minutes of the second half, converting these into six quick points and a 41-36 lead. The Vols eventually widened the gap to 12 (56-44) on a follow basket by Childress with around 13 minutes left.

The Panthers would not go quietly, however. They drained three 3-pointers in an 11-5 spurt that trimmed the deficit to six (61-55) with roughly 10 minutes to play. The visitors were still very much in the game until Lofton hit back-to-back 3-pointers, bumping the lead to 75-63 and giving the Vols a little breathing room.

Ultimately, Pearl said it best:

"It was one of those nights."

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