KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—The shots were falling for both teams, and Tennessee’s Chris Lofton knew what was coming.
The sophomore guard scored 22 of his 25 points in the second half and JaJuan Smith added a career-high 19 to lead the eighth-ranked Volunteers to a 105-89 victory over Auburn on Wednesday night that included a school-record 16 3-pointers.
Tennessee (19-3, 10-1 Southeastern Conference) was ahead 42-25 at halftime, but Auburn tried to rally by shooting 66 percent (24-of-36) from the field in the second half. At the same time, the Vols shot 64 percent (20-of-31) and outscored the Tigers 64-63 in the second half.
“It was not fun at all. If we’re hitting, and they’re missing, that’s something, but when both teams are hitting, that’s not real fun for us because we know Coach is going to let us know about our defense,” Lofton said.
So after Tennessee won its eighth straight SEC game, coach Bruce Pearl was in the locker room mad at his players for slacking off on defense in the second half.
It was his decision to stop pressing with about 10 minutes to go, but he wanted the halfcourt defense to be more effective.
“It wasn’t very good, but I guess it’s a pretty good sign that the guys know that after an SEC win I’m not real happy about how way we played,” Pearl said.
C.J. Watson added 18 points, Andre Patterson had 15, Major Wingate 12 and Stanley Asumnu 10 for Tennessee.
The Tigers (10-12, 2-9) have not won on the road this season.
Tennessee lost 62-59 at Auburn last season, but the game wasn’t close this time.
The Vols opened with an 8-0 run and the closest the Tigers got was five points. The Vols led by as many as 17 points in the first half.
Auburn cut it to 35-25 on Quantez Robertson’s 3-pointer with 2:10 left, but Tennessee went on a 7-0 run to finish the first half.
Tennessee pushed its lead to 67-44 on Patterson’s three-point play and a basket by Asumnu with 12:15 remaining. Auburn rallied with a 9-0 run that included consecutive baskets by Korvotney Barber to cut it to 14 with 9:57 left.
Lofton ended the spurt with a 3 that bounced off the rim and in. Ronny LeMelle scored for Auburn, but Lofton made two free throws and Smith had a 3 to restore the 20-point lead with 8:52 to go.
The starters stayed in the game and scored the most points since beating East Tennessee State 106-83 in the season opener.
“We do not score 64 points in games. We have had maybe 10 games, maybe, where we have not scored 64 points,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. “Our kids battled, but Tennessee was too good.”
LeMelle scored 19 points, Robertson had 17, Barber 14, Frank Tolbert 13 and Rasheem Barrett 11 for Auburn.
Lofton was selected the SEC player of the week after scoring 31 points at Kentucky and 33 points at Georgia last week. He made his first 3 with 1:42 remaining in the first half and finished 7-of-11 from beyond the arc.
Smith had five 3s and Watson and Dane Bradshaw each had two.
Meanwhile, Patterson was scoring inside, and the Vols had 12 steals. Tennessee leads the SEC in steals at 9.2 per league contest. Every player but one recorded at least one steal against Auburn.
“The difference in this game was turnovers,” Lebo said. “If you look at the stat sheet, we shoot it better than they do, but it was the turnovers that hurt us.”
Lebo was back on the bench after spending the Tigers’ last game at Arkansas in the locker room because he had the flu.