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Vols lose top scorer Lofton, hold off South Carolina

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee was desperate for a win after
losing three straight nail-biters, and then the Volunteers
lost leading scorer Chris Lofton.

Behind the support of the home crowd, Tennessee (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today; No. 22 AP) pulled out a
64-61 win Saturday over South Carolina with 21 points from JaJuan
Smith and 14 points and 10 rebounds from Wayne Chism.

"We had a good gut check tonight for lots of reasons. On the
heels of three losses all really coming down to last-possession
situations and then losing our All-American, a lot of teams could
have folded," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "Stuff like that
doesn't build character. It reveals it. I saw a lot of guys that
obviously had to step up."

The Vols (14-5, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) had lost by a total
of six points during their skid.

Lofton, who leads the SEC in scoring at 22.5 points a game,
sprained his right ankle early in the second half after scoring
only four points. Pearl said Lofton's injury would have to be
evaluated further on Sunday after the swelling goes down.

Tennessee led most of the game, but the Gamecocks (10-7, 0-4)
made several runs in hopes of ending their losing streak which they
extended to five games. At least this one was closer.

South Carolina lost their last two games by 34 points to Florida
and 38 to Kentucky. The Gamecocks rallied from being down 15 early
in the second half to three with 2:50 left.

Tennessee scored twice to get it back up to seven with 53.8
seconds left, and South Carolina resorted to scoring quickly and
fouling. Tennessee went 5-of-6 from the foul line the rest of the
way to seal it.

Ramar Smith added 10 points for the Vols.

Tre Kelley led South Carolina with 18 points while Dominique
Archie added 12 and Evaldas Baniulis had 10. Brandon Wallace had 15
rebounds.

The Gamecocks were only 2-of-5 from the foul line. Tennessee was
16-of-22.

"The story of the game was clearly free-throw shooting. They
came in as not being such a great free throw shooting team, and
they shot the ball extremely well today and often," South Carolina
coach Dave Odom said.

"I told our team we made some improvement, but we have to
continue to hold ourselves accoutable for executing properly,
giving great effort and playing smarter."

The Vols' losses were 82-81 at Vanderbilt, 68-66 at then-No. 5
Ohio State and 83-80 at Auburn. In those games, Tennessee failed to
make clutch free throws.

JaJuan Smith was in a shooting slump during the losing streak,
but came to life at home and with Lofton out of the game.

"We all got together and said we have to do this like we do in
practice when he's catching his breath. It's just a longer breather
right now and we just kept to the game plan," JaJuan Smith said.

Lofton made two baskets in the second half before he fell to the
floor in obvious pain after South Carolina scored with 18:11
remaining. He was trailing the transition play.

Lofton did not put weight on his right leg, and two teammates
carried him off the court.

The Gamecocks had a three-point play by Wallace afterward to cut
it to seven, but the Vols went on a 9-1 run. JaJuan Smith's basket
with 13:32 left made it 46-31, and Odom immediately called timeout.

South Carolina had a 9-0 run that cut it to 46-40 with 8:43 to
go, and had a chance to get closer but Dwayne Day missed a pair of
free throws.

The Gamecocks kept chipping away and got it down to three with
6:15 left on Kelley's 3, but they could get no closer.

This is South Carolina's worst start to an SEC season since
going 0-7 in 1998-99 under coach Eddie Fogler.

"It's hard to win at home, so it's definitely going to be hard
to win on the road with a hostile crowd like they had," Kelley
said.

The Vols had trouble stopping Archie until he had to go to the
bench with his fourth foul three minutes into the second half.

Tennessee went into halftime ahead 33-22 after leading most of
the first half and despite Lofton having no points. The Gamecocks
led in the opening minutes, but eight straight points by JaJuan
Smith gave the Vols a 10-7 lead with 14:05 remaining.

South Carolina's defense in the first half limited Lofton's open
shots, Pearl said, so the Vols adjusted at halftime.

"I didn't make it too much [adjustment] in the first half
because we had some game plan as far as we thought they'd take
Chris away and with an 11-point lead I thought we were doing
fine," Pearl said.

Tennessee's Jordan Howell, who started at point guard earlier in
the season, played for the first time since Dec. 18 after breaking
his right hand. He missed seven games. Freshman Ramar Smith
remained the starter.