KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—Chris Lofton put Tennessee’s first loss and his early season shooting slump behind him.
Lofton scored 18 of his season-high 24 points in a span of less than four minutes in the first half, helping the No. 11 Volunteers rebound from a double-digit loss with a 93-59 victory over North Carolina A&T on Tuesday night.
Tennessee (6-1) shot a school-record 50 3-pointers, including 20 by Lofton, after falling 97-78 to Texas in the championship game of the StubHub Legends Classic on Saturday in New Jersey.
Lofton scored all his points on 3s, topping 20 points for the first time this season after averaging 13.8 points over the first six games. The senior guard finished 8-of-21 from the floor and 8-of-20 on 3s, breaking his previous high of 18 3-point attempts.
“We were coming off a loss,” Lofton said. “That’s a bad taste in your mouth, so we just tried to come out and be aggressive. I tried to get my teammates shots and get some shots for myself, too.”
Tyler Smith had a season-high 17 points, Ramar Smith scored 11 and Josh Tabb added 10 for the Vols, who struggled early before pulling away with a 42-11 run over the final 12 minutes of the first half.
Jason Wills had 12 points for the Aggies (4-3), who had won four straight games, including a 96-93 road upset of DePaul on Saturday.
“We played a very good opponent that is very well coached,” North Carolina A&T coach Jerry Eaves said. “I think they had something to prove coming off the Texas game. We played a super game against DePaul. We are a small, little, shooting team, and when we hit our shots, we are very dangerous.”
The Vols came out cold, connecting on four of their first 19 shots and one of their first 13 3-point attempts. They bounced back to shoot 43 percent for the game after finishing below 40 percent last weekend against West Virginia and Texas, but they were only 14-of-50 from 3-point range.
“Of the 50 3s, I don’t know how many I would have turned down,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. “I mean, they were open. You’ve got to continue to let them shoot open shots.”
Tennessee trailed 11-10 until Lofton made six 3-pointers in a span of 3:42, starting the decisive run that stretched its lead to 30 by halftime. It was the type of signature scoring binge that had eluded Lofton in his first six games, when he shot 35.5 percent from the field.
“When I hit that one, two, three in a row, it felt good,” Lofton said. “I thought I wasn’t going to miss. It was just one of them days.”
The Aggies trimmed their deficit to 54-33 with an 11-2 run to open the second half, but the Vols answered with a 9-2 run on back-to-back 3-pointers by Tabb and another by Lofton.
“(Pearl) said (the loss) was what we needed,” said Tyler Smith, who also had a career-high 12 rebounds. “I think that we thought at the time we were untouchable as far as us losing. We went into the game thinking we were going to win. I don’t think we really approached that game the way we were supposed to.”
Tennessee junior forward Ryan Childress missed his second consecutive game after rolling his ankle in Friday’s 74-72 win over West Virginia. Pearl said he hoped to have Childress back Friday against Louisiana-Lafayette.
North Carolina A&T, which was playing Tennessee for the first time and looking for its first win over a Top 25 opponent, shot 36 percent in the first half and committed 29 turnovers for the game.
Steven Rush, North Carolina A&T’s leading scorer who had 40 points against DePaul, was held to eight points on 4-of-16 shooting.
“They are an up-tempo team, but we did a decent job of stopping them,” Pearl said.