Arkansas found a way to stop Tennessee All-American Chris Lofton.
There was just one problem with that strategy: JaJuan Smith.
Smith matched his career-high with 32 points as the No. 4 Vols pulled away for a 93-71 victory before the crowd of 20,008 at Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday night.
“I’m very pleased to report that JaJuan Smith has recovered from the flu in a big way,’’ UT coach Bruce Pearl deadpanned at the start of the post-game press conference, referring to the 101-degree temperature Smith played with at LSU last Saturday.
Smith’s 6-for-6 performance behind the 3-point arc Wednesday set a school record for 3-point shooting accuracy in a game (with a minimum of five attempts). The previous record, 5-for-5, was set four times, most recently by C.J. Watson in 2004.
UT (22-2, 9-1 SEC) gained a game in the SEC East standings with Vanderbilt’s win over Kentucky (6-3 SEC) on Tuesday and LSU’s victory at Florida (6-4 SEC) on Wednesday.
The Vols’ 29th consecutive home-court victory — the second longest in school history and the fourth-longest active streak nationally — snapped the a four-game win streak by the Razorbacks (17-6, 6-3).
Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism scored 15 points apiece for UT, winners of six in a row, while Duke Crews recorded his fourth career double-double and his first of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Lofton, who was checked closely throughout the game and double-teamed most every time he touched the ball, finished with six points on 2-of-8 shooting.
“They were almost playing a box-and-one (zone defense) on Chris,’’ Pearl said. “The guy guarding Chris wasn’t a foot off him all night.’’
Lofton failed to make a 3-pointer for the first time since the Vols’ season-opening victory over Temple, but he still contributed with six rebounds and three assists while also guarding Arkansas’ Patrick Beverley.
Beverley, a 6-foot-1 guard who was the SEC’s freshman of the year last season, had five points on 1-of-6 shooting and finished with one rebound after entering the night leading the SEC with 11 rebounds per game in conference action.
“We put Chris on him because he’s physically one of our strongest guards,’’ Pearl said. “They took their best rebounder (Beverley) and put him on Lofton, and so now he’s out there chasing Lofton, and then on the defensive end, Chris gets six (defensive rebounds) and Beverley gets none (offensive rebounds).’’
The Vols led by as many as 11 in the first half, methodically holding the Razorbacks at bay to take a 43-38 lead at halftime.
JaJuan Smith, perhaps mindful of how Arkansas came back from a 14-point second-half deficit to defeat the Vols in its last visit to Knoxville two years ago, said the team huddled at halftime and discussed the need to turn it on.
“We preached it in the locker room at halftime that we hadn’t closed out games,’’ Smith said. “This is really the first one we closed out.’’
UT led by as many as 27 when Jordan Howell drained a 3-pointer with 4:33 left to make it 88-61.
Tennessee, coming off a 4-of-15 free-throw performance at LSU, sank its first 11 foul shots and finished making 27-of-37 (.730).
“We shot a boat load of free throws (in practice) and I want to give a shout out to all our fans,’’ Pearl said with a wry smile, “Thank you for all the advice and text messages on free throws; I know more about free-throw shooting than I ever have.’’
With the win over Arkansas, the Vols have defeated every SEC team in Thompson-Boling Arena in Pearl’s three-year tenure as coach.
Tennessee returns to action at 3 p.m. Saturday at Georgia (12-10, 3-6), which defeated South Carolina Wednesday night.