for this game

Lofton, Tennessee hold off West Virginia

Nov 24, 2007 - 6:06 AM By Ian Parker Special to PA SportsTicker

NEWARK, New Jersey (Ticker) - Chris Lofton's struggles from 3-point range continue, but he found a way to lead his team to victory on Friday.

The senior guard scored a game-high 19 points as No. 7 Tennessee (5-0) held on for a 74-72 victory over West Virginia (2-1) in the semifinals of the Legends Classic.

The Vols (5-0) will play Texas in Saturday's championship game.

Lofton made only 3-of-11 from 3-point range, but two of those he did hit made a big difference as Tennessee fought to hold off the Mountaineers in the second half.

Wayne Chism chipped in 17 points, including 12 in the first half, and JaJuan Smith scored 15, including five key free throws down the stretch.

In a tense encounter, Tennessee was pushed all the way by the Mountaineers and never enjoyed a lead greater than nine points.

The Volunteers' high-powered offense struggled in the face of West Virginia's physical defense.

"Defensively they really bothered us, we couldn't run our offense," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "We got enough from transition and enough on turnovers, and then we got some big shots from JaJuan Smith and Chris Lofton when it mattered most."

Lofton, a Wooden Award candidate, still cannot find the touch on his usually deadly 3-pointer and admitted he has been struggling under the weight of expectations.

"I've put a lot of pressure on myself and haven't been playing for the right things, I've been trying to please everybody," he said. "I've just got to let the game come to me.

"We didn't play great but we got the win."

The Volunteers might have been in even more trouble had they not benefited from 13 points off 13 first-half turnovers by West Virginia.

"It could've been real ugly," said Pearl, who admitted his team was "exposed" after Tyler Smith picked up two early fouls and Ryan Childress turned an ankle.

West Virginia took its only lead of the second half at 41-39 with 15:11 to go as Tennessee paid the price for two technical fouls - one on Bruce Pearl and the other on Chism - in quick succession.

Tennessee rebounded to get out in front and led by as many as nine before the Mountaineers rallied to close within one, 61-60, with 4:48 to go.

The Volunteers could not pull clear and when West Virginia's Jamie Smalligan sank a 3-pointer with 14.2 seconds to go, Tennessee's lead was back to one, 71-70.

JuJuan Smith then made a pair from the free-throw line before Smalligan's long-range effort came up short.

With three seconds left, JuJuan Smith split another pair from the free-throw line to put the Vols over the top, making Josh Sowards' last-gasp basket irrelevant.

It was a much closer game than anyone expected, but West Virginia coach Bob Huggins took no consalation in the score.

"I'm not into moral victories," he said. "We had an opportunity to win and we didn't."

DaSean Butler scored 16 points and had seven rebounds to lead West Virginia, which made 23-of-60 (38.3 percent) from the field.

Tennessee shot 40.4 percent (21-of-52).