Vols hold off UNCA, 86-73

Chris Lofton eclipsed Tennessee's career record for 3-pointers Wednesday night but nearly was upstaged by a big guy and a big fade.

The big guy was 7-foot-7, 360-pound UNC-Asheville behemoth Kenny George, whose towering presence shut down the Vols' inside game. The big fade began with 13:56 to go and Tennessee leading comfortably at 64-37. The visitors made a 21-5 spurt that trimmed the lead to 69-58 with 8:06 to play.

With George getting a breather, 6-10 Vol freshman Brian Williams scored on a layup and a putback to give 12th-ranked Tennessee a 73-58 lead. George returned at this point, however, and UNCA eventually narrowed the gap to nine (76-67) with 3:18 remaining.

Lofton and JaJuan Smith bagged mid-range jump shots to stall the comeback, then Jordan Howell, Tyler Smith and Lofton hit two free throws each down the stretch to seal a hard-fought 86-73 triumph.

Chris Lofton's second 3-pointer of the night gave Tennessee a 20-6 lead and gave him 347 for his career, one more than the school record set by Allan Houston (1989-93). Asked about the milestone after the game, Lofton was typically modest and low-key.

"It's amazing," he said. "I think I'm truly blessed. I think God has blessed me a lot."

The only SEC player ever to sink more 3-pointers than Lofton was Arkansas's Pat Bradley, who hit 366 of them between 1995 and ‘99. When asked about chasing the former Razorback's record, Lofton shrugged in bewilderment. He obviously had no idea who Bradley was.

Informed that Bradley is the only SEC 3-point shooter he trails, Lofton admitted, "I didn't know that. You know, as long as we win, I'll be happy."

Asked if he keeps up with the school and league records he is approaching, Tennessee's All-America guard shook his head.

"Not really," he said. "People tell me. I hear about it and I read about it but I try not to think about it. I'm just worried about getting this team better."

After struggling with his stroke in Tennessee's first 10 games, Lofton was 3 for 3 on treys in the first half Wednesday night, helping the Vols to a 42-26 intermission lead. He hit just 1 of 8 from beyond the arc in the final 20 minutes, however. His teammates also showed more fizzle than sizzle after the break.

UNC-Asheville managed to slow the tempo in the second half, forcing Tennessee into a halfcourt game and enabling the imposing but ponderous George to become more of a factor. The Bulldog behemoth got all three of his baskets and 11 of his 13 rebounds after intermission.

Tennessee's Williams, a husky 270-pounder in his own right, said trying to keep George away from the basket was an unprecedented challenge.

"Moving a building is hard," the freshman said, grinning sheepishly. "It's impossible trying to move a building."

Playing offense against George was no fun either. Asked how it felt having 360 pounds leaning on him on every possession, Williams grinned broadly as he replied: "I feel like I've been in the weight room three days straight."

Tennessee (10-1) dominated the first half, outshooting the visitors 56.4 to 33.3 percent from the field and outscoring them by 16 points. UNCA took over in the second half, however, outshooting Tennessee 50 to 36.4 percent and outscoring the Vols by three.

UT head coach Bruce Pearl noted that the 21,001 fans who showed up for the Vols' only home game of the month "were treated to some really fine basketball … from Tennessee in the first half and from UNC-Asheville in the second half."

Lofton finished 7 of 17 from the field and led all scorers with 24 points. Arizona transfer J.P. Prince, playing just his second game for the Vols, came off the bench to contribute 13 points and a game-high 7 assists. JaJuan Smith also scored 13 and Tyler Smith added 12.

Pearl thought the Vols played two good halves last Saturday against Western Kentucky and a good first half Wednesday night, adding that he was "a little disappointed that we couldn't keep that rolling."

Ultimately, he said Tennessee let the visitors back in the game because "three or four guys really had off nights."

Foremost among them was Wayne Chism, who finished with 3 points, 3 rebounds and 3 turnovers in 19 nondescript minutes. The 6-9 sophomore made just 1 of 6 shots from the floor, including 0 of 3 from 3-point range.

Guards K.J. Garland (22 points) and Bryan Smithson (21) did most of the scoring for UNCA (8-3).

Tennessee visits Xavier Saturday afternoon at 2.

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