JaJuan hits 32 in romp

Tennessee's JaJuan Smith woke up Tuesday morning with a pain in his back. The pain he proved to be for Middle Tennessee was several inches lower.

Smith hit 11 of 15 shots – 7 of 11 from 3-point range – finishing with 32 points in just 19 minutes of action as the seventh-ranked Vols mauled the Blue Raiders 109-40 at Thompson-Boling Arena. The 69-point victory margin was the second-largest in program history. The biggest was 79 points (121-42 over Mexico) in 1966.

"It was like everything I threw up was dropping," Smith said, grinning broadly. "In warm-ups I was making everything, so I knew if I could get my shot off I was going to make it fall."

The 6-2 senior drained his first seven floor shots – five of them 3-pointers – and had 20 points with 9:28 left in the first half … by which time the Vols had a 31-4 lead. He eclipsed his career high of 25 points with a three-point play 12 seconds shy of halftime.

"Man, I woke up this morning with an ache in the back, and I just knew something crazy was going to happen once I got it straightened out," JaJuan Smith said. "I was feeling it. It was one of them nights."

Obviously. One of Smith's first-half baskets came on a fall-away 18-footer that ended with the ball swishing through the net and Smith sliding on his back. He leaped to his feet, laughing almost uncontrollably.

"That's my go-to move and I been missing it," he explained. "That's the first time I made it in a game, so I was excited."

Smith was motivated, too. Coming off a 2-of-12 shooting performance in last Friday's lethargic 89-75 defeat of Prairie View A&M, he was determined to bounce back.

"I thought I let my team down, taking that many shots and not completing that many," he said. "I had to do something to turn around, so I stayed in the gym, worked extra hard and it paid off."

Discouraged by their putrid performance against Prairie View, Smith's teammates also were looking for redemption against Middle Tennessee. They found it, shooting 64.9 percent while limiting the visitors to 31 percent. The Vols also forced 29 turnovers.

Head coach Bruce Pearl said his players were so intense before the game that the locker room was eerily silent, adding: "It's really unfortunate for Middle that we played so uninspired on Friday."

As if the Blue Raiders (1-3) didn't have enough problems, All-American Chris Lofton picked Tuesday night to snap out of his early-season shooting slump. After hitting just 21.4 percent – 17.6 percent from 3 – in the first three games, Lofton hit 6 of 9 on this night, including 5 of 8 from beyond the arc. He finished with 17 points.

"I hit a couple of shots. It was good to see that," the soft-spoken superstar said. "But we played great as a team. Everybody was hitting shots. Everybody contributed tonight."

That's a fact. Ramar Smith, benched after going 0-for-12 from the foul line vs. Prairie View, was 6 of 7 from the free-throw line en route to 12 points, 2 assists and 0 turnovers. After making his first free-throw attempt, he raised his index finger in response to a rousing ovation from the crowd of 18,592.

Tyler Smith added 11 points. Jordan Howell, who started at the point in place of Ramar Smith, hit 3 of 4 shots – all 3s – and finished with 9 points, 7 assists, 3 steals and zero turnovers. Electrifying freshman Cameron Tatum added 9 points, 4 steals, 2 rebounds, an assist and 3 turnovers in a 20-minute relief stint.

Tennessee (4-0) faces West Virginia Friday night at 9 in the Legends Classic semifinals at Newark, N.J. The Vols will play again Saturday against either Texas or New Mexico State.

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