KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—Tennessee guard JaJuan Smith did not let an aching back stop him on Tuesday night.
He overcame the injury and his previously inconsistent shooting as he scored a career-high 32 points in the seventh-ranked Vols’ dominating 109-40 win over Middle Tennessee.
Smith scored 26 in the first half and reigning Southeastern Conference player of the year Chris Lofton emerged from an early season slump with 17 points.
Tennessee (4-0) tied a school record with 16 3-pointers, won by the second-largest margin in program history and had 30 assists—the second-highest total in school history—while snapping the Blue Raiders’ streak of 216 consecutive games without allowing 100 points.
Smith, the Vols’ second-leading scorer last season, was 11-for-15 from the field and 7 of 11 from 3-point range just four days after going 2-for-12 in an 89-75 win over Prairie View A&M.
“Tonight I was feeling it,” Smith said. “I woke up this morning with an ache in the back, and I just knew something crazy was going to happen once I got it straightened out. I was just feeling it. It was one of them nights.”
Point guard Ramar Smith, who was replaced in the starting lineup by senior Jordan Howell, had 12 points off the bench and Tyler Smith added 11 for the Vols, who shot 64.9 percent from the floor.
“At this point in the season, that’s about as good as you can expect,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. “I think our focus tonight was obviously there. I asked our coaches before the game, ‘Are we nervous or just really, really focused?’ because they were quiet tonight.”’
Kevin Kanaskie had nine points and Nigel Johnson added seven for Middle Tennessee (1-3), which shot only 31 percent and lost to Tennessee for the sixth consecutive time.
“We just have to close the book on the game,” Blue Raiders coach Kermit Davis said. “It is an embarrassment to what we are trying to do and what we are trying to be about. But give all the credit to Tennessee. We are just not getting it done right now.”
The Vols came out hot from the start, building a 31-4 lead in less than 11 minutes with the help of JaJuan Smith, who made his first seven shots and his first five 3-point attempts.
Tennessee led 61-21 at halftime and by 71 in the second half.
Lofton, who had shot only 6-for-28 in his first three games, finished 6-for-9 from the floor and 5-for-8 from 3-point range.
“I hit a couple of shots, and it was good to see that,” Lofton said.
Howell, a senior making his seventh career start, had nine points on 3-for-4 shooting. Neither of Tennessee’s point guards, Howell and Ramar Smith, committed a turnover.
“We got better play out of the position,” Pearl said. “Against Prairie View, we did not get good play out of the position. I felt like there was more purpose and more focus.”
Freshman center Brian Williams, who had averaged 13.7 minutes in Tennessee’s first three games, did not play after suffering a knee injury against Prairie View A&M and a hip pointer during practice on Sunday.
The Blue Raiders, picked to finish third in the Sun Belt Conference East Division, also shook up their lineup, with Dino Hair, Uriah Hethington and Broderick Gilchrest making their first starts of the season.