Lofton goes off, Vols roll

Historically, Tennessee's Chris Lofton stops shooting when his shots don't fall early. Unfortunately for North Carolina A&T, he rewrote history Tuesday night.

After missing his first four shots, Lofton drained six of seven 3-pointers in a four-minute stretch, single-handedly accounting for 18 points in a 25-4 explosion that turned a 10-11 deficit into a 35-15 lead. The Vols put it on auto-pilot from there, coasting to a 93-59 victory.

"I was getting wide-open looks at the beginning of the game but I was missing a lot," Lofton said afterward. "I was really mad at myself. But I kept getting open looks and kept shooting and got hot for a little bit."

Hot? He was like molten lava.

"It was awesome," teammate Josh Tabb said. "I'd been challenging Lofton all the time, ‘Man, where's the real Lofton at? Let ‘em go. Let ‘em go."

Lofton let ‘em go, all right. After attempting just 43 shots from 3-point range in Tennessee's first six games, he unloaded 20 Tuesday night, breaking his own school record.

"When you're getting wide-open looks, you've got to keep taking ‘em," he said. "That's what Coach (Bruce Pearl) is always saying."

Pearl was pleased to see his All-American launching from long range.

"It was really good to see Chris being assertive and hunting his shot," the coach said. "He didn't hesitate. In fact, I yelled at him on two different occasions for turning down open 3s."

Lofton finished 8 of 21 from the floor for a team-high 24 points. Tyler Smith – a perfect 7 of 7 from the field – added 17 points, 12 rebounds and 4 steals. Ramar Smith conributed 11 points and 6 assists. Tabb came off the bench to produce 10 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals in 25 sterling minutes.

Tennessee (6-1) attempted a school-record 50 shots from 3-point range, hitting just 14 for 28 percent.

"I was glad to see that we managed to pinch off a few 3-balls tonight," Pearl wisecracked. "Fifty 3's is a school record, and I guess we managed to get it sometime around the first TV timeout in the second half."

That was an observation, however, not a complaint.

"Of the fifty 3's I don't know how many I would've turned down," Pearl said. "They were open, and you've got to let them continue to shoot open shots."

Basically, the Aggies sag inside and give opponents the 3-point shot.

"One of the reasons they like you to shoot the 3-ball is that they really run out on the misses," Pearl said. "They almost invite you to shoot it. Then on misses they're running out and doing their thing because they're very good in transition."

As chilly as the Vols were from long range, they weren't much better from in close. Despite shooting mostly from point-blank range, posts Wayne Chism and Duke Crews combined to hit just 3 of 10 shots.

"I like to make a joke, telling them it's my fault we can't make those shots from two feet," Pearl quipped. "I've got to get you an offense that'll get you to one foot."

Ultimately, Tuesday's game was street ball without the street. Both teams played fast-break offense and full-court defense, resulting in 18 turnovers by the Vols and 29 by the Aggies. Calling the action sloppy would be an understatement. Still, Pearl wasn't worried.

"Part of it was the style of play," he said. "North Carolina A&T plays like we play. They like to press. They pressed us all game long. They like to run. I like what they did because a lot of it is what we do."

Tennessee returns to action Friday night, hosting Louisiana-Lafayette.


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