Tennessee 121, Long Beach St. 86
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—Forget “Rocky Top.” Chris Lofton may have come up with a new Tennessee rallying cry.
Lofton led the way with 25 points as the Volunteers set off some offensive fireworks to beat Long Beach State 121-86 Friday—matching the most points scored by a team in a first-round NCAA tournament game.
“It really was (fun),” Lofton said. “We’re used to playing like that. When a team plays (uptempo) like that, we get excited. It was just a fast-paced game.
“We put the ‘fast’ back in ‘fast break.”’
Catchy—and accurate. The point total equaled the most in a first-round game, set by UNLV in 1977 against San Francisco.
Both teams came in averaging 80 points—putting them among the top 11 in the nation—so it wasn’t a shocker that baskets came in bunches.
But the numbers were nonetheless staggering for old-timers who believe defense drives teams into the elite field.
“I like an identity for a program. This is our identity,” coach Bruce Pearl said. “We’ve never finished second in (any league in) scoring in 14 or 15 years I’ve been a head coach. We pride ourselves on, as Chris said, putting the fast back in fast break. We do. We want to be able to do that and win. I enjoy being uptempo and being aggressive in transition. We’ll put four or five guys on the floor that can score, and they’ve got a lot of freedom.”
The Volunteer (23-10) hit triple digits on a dunk by Duke Crews with more than 6 1/2 minutes left and then stepped on the gas to tie the school mark for points.
“They were scoring from all kinds of positions on the court,” Long Beach State coach Larry Reynolds said.
JaJuan Smith added 24 points, Ramar Smith 22, Crews 12 and Wayne Chism 10 points. Dane Bradshaw had a career-best 11 assists.
“We didn’t come in with a game plan that says we want to put up 100 on these guys,” Bradshaw said. “It was just the flow of the game.”
The Volunteers improved to 29-3 in Pearl’s two years when scoring 80 or more points—a threshold they reached with 13 minutes remaining. They’ll face Virginia in the second round of the South Regional on Sunday.
Kejuan Johnson scored 24 points, Aaron Nixon 23 and Kevin Houston 17 for the 12th-seeded 49ers (24-8), regular-season and tournament champs of the Big West who were making their first NCAA appearance in a dozen years.
Lofton, the Southeastern Conference player of the year, led the way as the Volunteers shot 59 percent from the field and made 14 of 27 3-pointers. He hit half of his eight shots behind the arc and JaJuan Smith hit 4-of-6.
Each team hit seven 3-pointers in a wild opening half that featured the Volunteers racing to a 29-12 lead in the opening 7 1/2 minutes. They did it with precision shooting, their full-court press and trapping pressure.
Lofton keyed the defense, with two steals leading to a pair of layups in a 5-second span.
The 49ers got as close as 41-35 thanks to their own long-range marksmanship, with Nixon hitting four shots behind the arc and Johnson three—each of which were arching rainbows that barely rustled the net.
The 3-point shooting contest also was hardly a surprise. Both teams set school records this year, with Tennessee hitting 286 3-pointers and the 49ers making 261.
Ahead 57-45 at the break, the Volunteers ran off 12 of the first 14 points in the second half—seven by Lofton—to build the lead to 69-47.
“The start of the second half was the key for us,” Bradshaw said. “We stopped them and got some easy buckets in transition as well as out of our half-court offense.”
From then on, the totals mounted. The Volunteers had 90 points with 10 minutes left.
“We knew we had to score,” Ramar Smith said. “We knew it was going to be a high-scoring game and we came out and scored.”
It wasn’t as if the 49ers didn’t have a big offensive game. They hit 49 percent from the field and made 12 of 21 3-pointers. But Tennessee had only six turnovers and picked up 22 points off turnovers.
The game might have been the swan song for Reynolds, 63-83 in five years at Long Beach State. School administrators allowed him to finish out his contract, saying they would discuss the future of the program after the season ended.
“The program has come a long way,” Reynolds said. “There are still steps the program needs to get to. I’m sure the gentlemen that are in charge of that will make the best decision for Long Beach State.”
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