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Tennessee ends skid by beating South Carolina

Jan 21, 2007 - 4:50 AM KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Tennessee needed to end a losing streak and it had to do it the hard way.

JaJuan Smith scored 21 points to lead the 24th-ranked Volunteers to a 64-61 Southeastern Conference victory over South Carolina.

Tennessee (14-5, 2-2 SEC East) snapped a three-game skid and managed to do it without leading scorer Chris Lofton, who sprained an ankle with 18:11 to play and did not return.

Without Lofton, the SEC's leading scorer who had registered over 20 points in 11 of his past 12 games, the Volunteers saw a 15-point second-half lead dwindle to three.

JaJuan Smith and Ramar Smith combined to hit 7-of-8 free throws in the final 53 seconds to seal it for Tennessee, reversing a trend in which the Volunteers lost their last three games - all on the road - by a combined six points.

"On the heels of three close losses and losing our All-America player, we could have folded," Vols coach Bruce Pearl said. "This situation did not build character; it revealed character."

Lofton, who is averaging 21.5 points in SEC play, appeared to step on the back of Dominique Archie's ankle as the Gamecocks' forward went in for a layup. The junior guard will have precautionary X-rays Monday morning and is out indefinitely.

"We really need 24 hours to have a decent examination to determine what happened to Chris Lofton," Pearl said. "He has an ankle sprain, and his ankle is swollen."

While Pearl praised the play of JaJuan Smith, he was visibly annoyed with his forward's showboating in the final seconds. Smith tried to pass the ball off the backboard to himself for a dunk, but the carom went over his head and bounced to center court.

"JaJuan Smith played a terrific game and got us off to a good start," Pearl said. "I was very disappointed and upset about the last play. He understands and is sorry."

South Carolina (10-7, 0-4 East) has dropped five consecutive games. It used a 9-0 run to cut a 15-point deficit to 46-40 on a 3-pointer by Lithuanian freshman Evaldus Baniulis, who scored seven points in the spurt.

Tre Kelley nailed one of his five 3-pointers to get the Gamecocks within 55-52 with 2:50 left, but JaJuan Smith scored on a layup and converted two foul shots to extend the lead to seven with 53 seconds left.

"One of the lead stories of the game clearly was free-throw shooting," Gamecocks coach Dave Odom said. "They came in not being such a great free-throw shooting team, and they shot the ball extremely well today. We only got to the free-throw line five times; they were there 21 times."

Freshman Wayne Chism added 14 points and 10 rebounds for Tennessee, which made 16-of-22 shots from the stripe.

"For Wayne Chism to have a double-double as a freshman is exceptional," Pearl said. "What people may not see, however, is his defensive play. He is special on defense because of his feet."

Kelley finished with 18 points for South Carolina, the two-time reigning NIT champion.