CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP)—Undersized and outmuscled, Tennessee turned up the pressure and showed why its the power program on this side of the state.
Chris Lofton had 16 points, JaJuan Smith added 13 and No. 10 Tennessee survived a scare to beat Chattanooga 76-70 Tuesday night.
Playing their first true road test of the season, the Volunteers (8-1) shot a season-low 36 percent from the field. Tennessee’s only other games outside Knoxville were at neutral sites against Texas and West Virginia, and it nearly went back north on Interstate 75 with a demoralizing blow.
“Maybe for a basketball purist it was ugly,” Vols coach Bruce Pearl said. “Maybe Tennessee fans would expect us to come down here and blow these guys out, but that was not our expectation. We are going to be a good basketball team. We’re not yet.”
Stephen McDowell had 14 points for Chattanooga, which fell to 5-30 against its in-state adversary just two hours to its north. Marcus Watts added 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Nicchaeus Doaks had 11 points.
Chattanooga coach John Shulman, who Pearl joked might demote him to “the second most spastic coach in my own state,” was animated throughout. Shulman said if the Mocs could have kept it closer, they wouldn’t have fallen short of “doing something special.”
“I was disappointed he didn’t sweat through his suit,” Shulman said. “We didn’t make him sweat enough.”
Tennessee was outrebounded for the fourth game this season, and it almost cost them. Playing with a small lineup, Pearl challenged his team to end its rebounding struggles.
“What adjustments do we make? I mean, man up,” Pearl said.
Chattanooga (4-4) muscled its way past the Vols for much of the game, but a season-high 34 turnovers cost it a chance to score its second consecutive upset over Tennessee. The Mocs defeated the Vols in the last meeting between the schools in 2004.
“Us seniors, we definitely remember how they handed it to us a couple years ago,” Tennessee guard Tyler Smith said. “We talked about it before we came down here. In the back of our minds that was the low point of that season.
“I don’t remember the other losses that season. Knowing that they’re an in-state school and that they beat us last time, we wanted to hand it to them.”
Tennessee trailed 41-40 with 17 minutes to play. The Vols hit their stride late, and the Mocs fatigued facing constant pressure from Tennessee’s swarming full-court defense.
The Vols put together a 14-4 run to take a 61-49 lead, drowning out the once blaring home crowd.
The Mocs fed off a record 11,221 fans, many wearing yellow T-shirts for the Volunteers’ first visit to McKenzie Arena in 25 years. The previous record was 11,218, reached against both the Vols and Michael Jordan’s North Carolina team in the arena’s opening season in 1982.
The Mocs also wore black for the first time in school history to add an extra spark.
“It was like we were the big-time school,” Watts said. “I’ve never been more energized at home.”
Tennessee made 17 of 22 free throws, ending Chattanooga’s hopes with clutch shooting from the line.
Despite forcing 21 first-half turnovers, Tennessee led just 34-33 at the half.
Chattanooga outrebounded the Vols 25-12 in the half, and held Tennessee to just 36 percent shooting. The Vols cut the rebounding deficit to 43-30 by game’s end, but allowing second-chance points for much of the game gave the Mocs the opportunity they needed.
“We just couldn’t come down with the ball,” Vols forward Tyler Smith said. “They broke us down.”
The Vols used an 8-0 run to go ahead 16-8 in the first 10 minutes. But foul trouble, poor shot selection and rebounding allowed Chattanooga to creep back.
“To get outrebounded the way we did, should be a surprise,” Pearl said. “Rebounding is not our strength, but we got exposed.”