Jan. 7, 2007
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Mississippi State learned that Tennessee's Chris Lofton can score from anywhere on the floor.
Lofton scored 11 of his 21 points in the final 6:21 and freshman Duke Crews added a season-high 18 points to help the No. 19 Volunteers open the Southeastern Conference slate with a 92-84 win over the Bulldogs on Sunday.
"We guarded him as good as you can guard him," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "The difference in his game was the last 6 minutes."
Jamont Gordon was one assist shy of a triple-double, but it wasn't enough for the Bulldogs (9-5), who have not won on the road in the SEC since the end of the 2004-05 season.
Gordon finished with a career-high 25 points, and added 11 rebounds and nine assists.
The Vols (13-2) have won nine in a row since back-to-back losses to Butler and North Carolina in November, their longest winning streak since opening the 2000-01 season 9-0.
Mississippi State trailed the entire first half, but grabbed the lead early in the second half, taking advantage of Tennessee turnovers in a 14-2 run. The Bulldogs expanded their lead to as many as five, but Tennessee chipped away and regained the lead - briefly.
JaJuan Smith hit a 3 after Crews rebounded Dane Bradshaw's missed free throw to put the Vols up 68-67 with 9:06 left. Gordon scored at the other end to get the lead back for the Bulldogs. But Tennessee rallied again, and Lofton's pair of free throws put the Vols ahead 74-73 with 6:21 to go.
Ryan Childress followed with a 3-pointer to extend the lead, and Lofton took over to make sure the Vols never trailed again.
Lofton, mostly known as a long-range shooter, had only one 3-pointer, but was 8-of-10 from the foul line. He made five of seven free throws down the stretch.
"We had No. 5. He was wearing the white jersey, and he's pretty good. He wanted the ball in the second half," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "He didn't get many looks on 3s because they did a good job of taking it away, but he got himself to the foul line and made some tough 2s."
Lofton worked in the offseason on adding drives to the basket to his offensive repertoire. It showed Sunday.
"I just felt like I had to make something happen. I hadn't really showed up in the first half or the first part of the second half," Lofton said. "I was trying to go to the rack. We were in bonus, so just try to get to the foul line and get some easy buckets."
Mississippi State also had 15 points apiece from Charles Rhodes and Reginald Delk, and Barry Stewart added 12. Rhodes also had 10 rebounds.
The Bulldogs have lost three straight. Their young team went 0-8 on the road in the SEC last season and have lost 10 in a row to ranked teams since beating then-No. 22 South Carolina in February 2004.
Mississippi State is still fairly inexperienced, starting two freshmen and three sophomores, but they were scrappy. And the Vols tried to recruit many of them. Gordon is from Nashville.
Both teams shot 55 percent from the field, but Tennessee had 20 made free throws to Mississippi State's 10.
Stansbury was not happy his team was called for 25 fouls while Tennessee had 18.
"The difference in the basketball game was the free-throw line. We didn't make some and didn't get there down the stretch," he said.
Said Gordon: "I'm more frustrated 'cause I think we could have won this game. I think there were some bad calls."
The Vols were leading by 10 early in the second half when Mississippi State had a 14-2 run to take its first lead of the game. Gordon's reverse layup with 15:10 put the Bulldogs up 58-56, and Pearl immediately called a time-out.
Mississippi State couldn't keep the Vols down long.
Tennessee was ahead 49-42 at halftime after the officials reviewed the final basket to determine if it made it before the buzzer. They ruled Ramar Smith tipped back Lofton's missed 3-pointer.