Dec. 30, 2006

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Coach Pearl | J. Smith

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith helped Tennessee dodge an upset bid in the final game before the start of the Southeastern Conference schedule.

Lofton scored 28 points and Smith matched his career high with 23 to help No. 21 Tennessee hold off East Tennessee State 93-88 on Saturday night for its eighth straight victory.

"It was an inspired effort by East Tennessee State," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "They're going to be a good team in that league (the Atlantic Sun) and they're obviously getting better."

Tennessee will open Southeastern Conference play Jan. 7 against Mississippi State. Three of the Vols' SEC opponents - Florida, Alabama and LSU - are ranked and a fourth opponent, Kentucky, received votes in the most recent Associated Press poll.

Lofton tied a school record for free throw percentage in a game, going 13-for-13. Tennessee (12-2) went 30-of-35 from the line, its best free throw percentage (85.7) in a game this season.

Ramar Smith had 11 points and Dane Bradshaw added 10 for the Vols.

Courtney Pigram had 19 points for East Tennessee State (8-6), while Andrew Reed and Dequan Twilley each scored 17, Mike Smith had 11 and Eryk Thomas 10. Reed had 15 rebounds.

"That's some real progress there," Pearl said. "A lot of guys stepped up at the foul line."

Tennessee built an 18-point lead with 6:45 left in the first half, but East Tennessee State closed within one point before trailing 41-39 at halftime.

The Vols had 16 turnovers in the first half and finished with 23. East Tennessee had 12 at halftime, 21 for the game.

"They just didn't give up," JaJuan Smith said. "East Tennessee State is a good team."

The Buccaneers took the lead and bolstered their confidence early in the second half. They scored eight straight points and led 58-52 on Pigram's 3-pointer with 15:20 left.

Tennessee then went on an 11-0 run. JaJuan Smith scored seven points during the spurt, including the tip-in with 12:46 left that put the Vols up 61-58.

Lofton's three-point play gave the Vols a 71-62 lead with 11:04 left, capping a 19-4 run.

With 9:19 to play, JaJuan Smith's 3-pointer gave the Vols a 12-point lead, their biggest of the second half. The Bucs got within five with 6:29 left, and didn't get that close again until Dequan Tilley's 3-pointer in the final seconds.

"I think that they (East Tennessee State) did a terrific job," Pearl said. "They were very aggressive. We shot 35 free throws. We could have shot 55. There was tremendous contact on every play."

Tennessee opened the game with an 11-2 run, with JaJuan Smith scoring all 11 points. He hit his first three 3-point attempts and two foul shots.

Leading 22-15 midway through the first half, the Vols went on a 13-2 run. Bradshaw's 3-pointer late in the shot clock gave Tennessee a 35-17 lead with 6:45 left.

East Tennessee State reeled off 16 straight points and trailed 35-33 after Reed's follow shot with 3:18 left.

"I am really proud of our guys," East Tennessee State coach Murray Bartow said. "I thought we played hard, fought hard, and competed hard."

Earlier Saturday, Tennessee announced that freshman guard Marques Johnson was transferring. Johnson played in the first four games, averaging 11.3 minutes, but has not played since.





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