The win, Tennessee's first at Coleman Coliseum since 1998 and only the second in the past 19 visits, lifts the Vols into a first-place tie with Florida in the SEC East race. Both teams are 5-1 in league play.
Speaking on his post-game show, Vol coach Bruce Pearl called the win "really special," adding that "We were very aware of what was at stake."
After making just 13 of 42 shots (31 percent) leading up to intermission, Tennessee hit a sizzling 18 of 26 (69 percent) after intermission. The Vols' 3-point shooting improved even more dramatically – going from 3 of 15 (20 percent) in the first half to 9 of 12 (75 percent) in the second.
Even shooting the ball brilliantly, however, the Vols led only 75-72 with 5:49 to play. That's when JaJuan Smith went on one of his patented one-man rallies. His 3 from the right corner boosted the lead to 78-72. When Bama closed to 78-76, Smith nailed a 3 from the left wing. The Tide closed to 83-81 but Smith hit another 3 – this time from the right wing – as the Vols eased ahead 86-81 with 1:25 remaining.
As a rule, SEC champions win all of their home games and "steal" four or five wins on the road. The Vols already won at South Carolina, so winning at Bama was huge. Like Florida, UT now has two SEC road wins.
"We talked about trying to get a separator win, and this is one of them," Pearl said. "You could argue that this is our first separator win."
Tennessee beat Bama at its own game, outrebounding the taller Tide 45-36. The Vols pulled down 21 offensive rebounds, including an amazing 17 in the first half. The Big Orange might've won in a romp if not for committing a season-high 23 turnovers.
Alabama made 33 of 66 shots (50 percent) from the floor but hit just 4 of 13 (30.7 percent) from 3 and committed 20 turnovers.
Individually, Lofton hit 5 of 9 shots from 3-point range and led Tennessee with 23 points. JaJuan Smith added 22. Tyler Smith chipped in 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Vols, now 18-2 overall.
Alonzo Gee, a 6-6 junior guard, scored 22 of his game-high 27 points in the second half to pace Bama, which slips to 12-9 overall and 1-5 in SEC play. Gee also grabbed 9 rebounds. Richard Hendrix, the Tide's 6-9, 255-pound center, added 20 points and 12 rebounds.
The road doesn't get any easier for Tennessee. The Vols visit No. 25 Mississippi State Saturday in Starkville.