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Pearl finds positives in sloppy UT triumph at Alabama

Pearl finds positives in sloppy UT triumph at Alabama

By: By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Bruce Pearl looked beyond all the turnovers and found plenty to like in No. 7 Tennessee’s latest win.
Led by shooters Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith, the Volunteers hustled to the ball, grabbed rebounds and made timely 3-pointers to survive a season-high 23 turnovers for a 93-86 victory over Alabama on Tuesday night.
“I just thought we had great, great effort,” Pearl said.
Pretty good shooters, too.
Lofton and Smith both hit three 3-pointers over the final 11 minutes to bail the Volunteers out of serious trouble. Lofton had five 3-pointers and 23 points for Tennessee (18-2, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) while Smith added four 3s and 22 points.
Besides avoiding a second upset loss in the past week, the Vols got a rare win in Coleman Coliseum where they had lost 16 of their last 17. They hadn’t won in Tuscaloosa since 1998.
“The big motivator is I’d never won here before,” said Lofton, a senior.
The Volunteers lost to Kentucky six days earlier, dropping four spots in the rankings.
In the only other game involving a ranked team on Tuesday, No. 17 Marquette beat South Florida 62-54.
Smith’s final shot from beyond the arc with just under three minutes left turned back the Crimson Tide’s final attempt at a comeback.
Pearl called it “a dagger shot.” Alabama’s Mikhail Torrance had another description: “The back crusher.”
“You’ve got to make those shots to win ball games,” Pearl said. “You love it when it comes from a senior.”
The Vols blew most of a 10-point lead but went 9-of-12 from 3-point range and shot 69 percent in the second half. The Tide (12-9, 1-5) managed to pull within two points five times in the final 7 minutes, but never grabbed the lead.
Richard Hendrix’s inside basket made it 83-81 with 1:45 left. But Smith drained his fourth 3-pointer off a pass from Lofton, and Lofton added two free throws with 59 seconds left for an 88-81 lead.
Alabama never found an answer for that duo.
“JaJuan Smith and Chris Lofton just started knocking down 3s,” Tide guard Brandon Hollinger said. “We were contesting shots and they just kept knocking them down.”
Tyler Smith had 17 points and 11 rebounds for Tennessee, which had a 45-36 rebound advantage. JaJuan Smith had five steals and was 4-of-7 on 3s while Lofton went 5-of-9 and has made 12 3-pointers in the last two games.
The Vols went 19-of-28 from the free throw line.
Alonzo Gee led Alabama with 27 points, 21 in the second half, and had nine rebounds. Hendrix had 20 points and 12 rebounds while Torrance and freshman Senario Hillman both had 12 points.
“We had a hard time guarding Alabama,” Pearl said. “They’re really a good offensive team. They’ve got good offensive weaponry inside and outside. We tried to guard them 1-on-1 and they got by us.”
The Tide had 20 turnovers and made just 16 of 27 free throws.
“The third huge part of it was them just making some big shots,” Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. “That’s the difference in the game.”
The Vols broke a 33-all halftime tie with a 12-2 run. It was capped by Ramar Smith’s behind-the-back pass to Tyler Smith for a dunk.
Gee kept the Tide in the game by scoring 13 points in a six minute span after Tennessee built a 10-point lead.
Alabama’s zone defense was effective in the first half, when Tennessee made just three 3s. The Tide had no answer for Lofton and JaJuan Smith in the second.
“I don’t know if we stopped them in our man defense once,” Gottfried said. “That wasn’t working. We wanted to try to keep them off-balance. We did at times. In the first half, the zone was very effective. The second half they just kind of found some soft spots, and that’s what a good team does. You’ve got to find some holes in the zone and they did.”
Marquette 62, South Florida 54
Lazar Hayward scored a career-high 23 points and Wesley Matthews added 16, including three late 3-pointers, for the Golden Eagles (15-4, 5-3 Big East).
Kentrell Gransberry had 15 points and 15 rebounds for the visiting Bulls (10-11, 1-7) but he fouled out with 4:06 remaining, about a minute after the game was tied for the last time at 42-42.

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