Tennessee impressed the voters enough to rejoin the rankings. Now, the 21st-ranked Volunteers would like to stay there for longer than the first time.
Tennessee plays its first game as a ranked team in nearly five weeks when it hosts Tennessee Tech on Thursday.
The Volunteers (10-2) used a couple of dramatic victories to get back into the Top 25. They beat then-No. 15 Oklahoma State 79-77 on Dane Bradshaw’s tip-in with 1.9 seconds remaining on Dec. 18, then rallied from 17 points down in the second half to beat Texas 111-105 in overtime on Saturday.
“At halftime we should have been down more than 15. We played so poorly for a long stretch in the first half,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said.
“I said Texas can play better than that. They played good. They can play better. Now we’re either going to get blown out of here or we’re going to come back and represent.”
Tennessee was ranked in the preseason poll, then dropped out three weeks later following losses to Butler and North Carolina in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Volunteers haven’t lost since, winning six in a row, including double-digit victories in the first four games of that stretch.
Chris Lofton scored a career-high 35 points against Texas, including a 3-pointer from about 30 feet that gave the Volunteers their first lead at 88-87 with 18 seconds remaining in regulation. He added 11 rebounds to record his first career double-double.
“What can you say about Chris Lofton?” Pearl said. “He did not shoot a good percentage, he still had a double-double and that shot at the end of regulation, we were not surprised to see it hit bottom. Lofton is an amazing weapon.”
Lofton has averaged 28.7 points during the winning streak and hit 51.6 percent (32-for-62) of his 3-point attempts. He’s reached 30 points in four of his last six games, and his 22.5 points per game lead SEC players.
His performance against Texas helped the Volunteers overcome the absence of starting point guard Jordan Howell, who broke his right hand in practice on Thursday and will be out six to eight weeks.
Tennessee is 13-0 at home against non-conference opponents under Pearl, and the Vols have won 73 of their last 80 home games overall against non-conference teams.
They are also 42-1 all-time against current members of the Ohio Valley Conference, the only defeat coming to Tennessee Tech in 1996. That was the Golden Eagles’ only victory in 20 all-time meetings with the Volunteers.
Tennessee Tech (5-6) plays three of its next four games on the road, where it’s 1-3 this season. The Golden Eagles haven’t played since losing 73-66 to Central Florida in the San Juan Shootout last Thursday. They took fourth place in the tournament after beating Northwestern 66-65 in the opening game and losing 75-62 to Vanderbilt.
This is the first meeting between the teams since a 79-61 Tennessee victory on Dec. 22, 2003.