Starting with a bang

With points to prove, Vols tie school record

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Chris Lofton had some pent-up frustration, JaJuan Smith was looking for redemption and Ramar Smith wanted to please his mama.

It added up to a 121-86 Tennessee victory over Long Beach State in the first round of the NCAA South Regional at Nationwide Arena on Friday afternoon.

Lofton scored 25 points, JaJuan Smith 24 and Ramar Smith added a career-high 22 as the Vols (23-10) advanced to play Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season co-champion Virginia (21-10) at 12:10 p.m. Sunday (TV: WVLT).

UT is the region's No. 5 seed, the Cavaliers are the No. 4 seed. The winner of Sunday's game advances to San Antonio for a Sweet 16 date against the winner of today's Ohio State-Xavier game.

The Vols' 121 points Friday matches the NCAA tournament's first-round record for points by a team. The record was set by UNLV in 1977 against San Francisco. It also matches UT's school record for most points scored in a game, set against Mexico on Jan. 24, 1966.

"We didn't come into the game with a plan that said we were going to put 100 on these guys,'' said UT's Dane Bradshaw, who dished out a career-high 11 assists. "It was just the flow of the game and how it was.''

Lofton knew how it was, and what Friday's game was all about.

The junior sharpshooter still has a fire burning in his belly after last year's disappointing loss to Wichita State in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"That stayed with me all summer and really all season long,'' said Lofton, who scored seven points and had two steals in a one-minute span to key a 10-0 first-half run that enabled the Vols to build a 26-10 lead seven minutes into the game.

"I know I played one of my worst games (against Wichita State), and people could say I cost us that game,'' Lofton said. "It was very disappointing.''

JaJuan Smith said he saw something different in Lofton before the opening tip.

"You could look in his eyes and tell he was ready to get it going,'' JaJuan Smith said. "After the LSU game in the SEC (tournament) last week he was real upset.

"You could tell by his emotions and the way he was working out. He was turning off his phone to get ready and not wanting to talk to anyone.''

JaJuan Smith didn't mind talking to anyone after the 76-67 overtime loss to the Tigers last Thursday, but he was just as eager to get back on the court after his 0-for-7 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc.

"I couldn't help but play better than I did in that game,'' said JaJuan Smith, who was 4-of-6 shooting 3-pointers in the win over the 49ers (24-8). "That was something else in Atlanta.''

Ramar Smith has been something else here, the only place his mother, Sheila Peoples, has come and seen him play this season.

Ramar Smith had six assists, no turnovers, two blocked shots and three steals to go with his 22 points Saturday. Last week, he explained his mother has a fear of flying, and the game at Ohio State and Friday's game have been the only two drivable games (three hours) from the family's home near Detroit.

"I love it when my family comes to watch, and I want to make them proud of me,'' said Ramar Smith, who had 14 points and a career-high nine rebounds in the 68-66 loss to the No. 1 Buckeyes on Jan. 13. "I had 10 family members here and my Mom.''

JaJuan Smith already knew that.

"I'm his roommate on the road, and he's been on the phone with her 18 of 24 hours,'' JaJuan Smith said. "I'm in the room trying to go to sleep and he's on the phone yelling, trying to get the tickets straight.

"I knew he'd try to come out here and have a great night for his family.''

They didn't need to wait long. Ramar Smith drained a 3-pointer to open the game's scoring and UT led the rest of the game.

The Vols led by as many as 17 points in the first half en route to taking a 57-45 lead into intermission.

Unsatisfied, UT opened the second half on a 16-2 run, sparked by a Lofton 3-pointer and capped by two Ramar Smith free throws to make it 73-47 at the 15:44 mark.

Long Beach, led by Kejuan Johnson's 24 points and Aaron Nixon's 23, didn't draw to closer than 20 points after that.

"The start of the second half was the key to the game and the margin,'' UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "I enjoy being uptempo and being aggressive in transition. ... this is our identity.''

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