KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—Chris Lofton was tired of standing still.
After suffering through a shooting slump for most of the season, he hit seven 3-pointers and scored a season-high 27 points to lead No. 3 Tennessee to an 85-69 victory over Georgia on Saturday night.
“Move around,” Lofton said of what he needed to break the slump. “I got caught standing around a lot at the beginning of the season.”
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said he liked the way Lofton and the Volunteers (17-2, 4-1 SEC) responded to Tuesday’s 72-66 loss to Kentucky.
“I’m thinking about scheduling Kentucky as the first non-conference opponent every season,” Pearl told Tennessee fans after the game.
It was the seventh straight win for the Vols over the Bulldogs (11-6, 2-2), who were playing their first SEC road game and first Top 25 opponent.
Lofton, who has only averaged 13.8 points this season compared to 20.8 as a junior, hit his first 3-pointer 2 1/2 minutes in to put the Vols up 5-2.
He didn’t stop there. Lofton finished the half with 20 points after going 7-of-9 from the field, including 6-for-8 on 3-pointers. With every 3 he made, Thompson-Boling Arena erupted in cheers.
Lofton already has the SEC record for career 3-pointers and moved into 10th place in the NCAA record book on Saturday with 374.
His 20 first-half points nearly matched Georgia as Tennessee took a 44-23 lead.
“When you come into the locker room at halftime down by 20, it’s more likely you’ve been soft and not taking care of the ball,” Georgia guard Billy Humphrey said. “I’m not really sure what to fault it to, but we just have to take care of the ball.”
Tennessee built on its lead in the second half with help from Tyler Smith’s 17 points and career-high nine assists.
Sundiata Gaines led Georgia with 20 points while Billy Humphrey and Dave Bliss both added 15 points, and Chris Barnes grabbed nine rebounds.
Georgia’s only lead came on a dunk by Jeremy Price, the first score of the game. Tennessee answered with a 15-2 run that ended on Lofton’s second 3 with 12:04 left in the first half.
“We came out soft with everything,” Georgia coach Dennis Felton said. “Soft with the ball, soft with our passes, soft with the dribble, soft with our post game. We were just soft.”
Tennessee entered the game averaging 35 percent from behind the 3-point line. The Vols made 45 percent of their 3s against Georgia, which has allowed opponents to shoot 31.8 percent from 3-point range.
Tennessee shot 57.1 percent from the field while Georgia hit 40.6 percent from the field, only 18.2 percent on 3s.
The Vols continued to struggle on the boards as the Bulldogs outrebounded them, 24-19.
Duke Crews returned to the Vols for the first time since Dec. 4, earning a standing ovation from the fans. Crews was held out after a medical test found a heart condition that needed to be reviewed.
Crews finished with nine points and eight rebounds in 14 minutes.
Most of the 21,099 in attendance had left by the end of the game, but the ones who stayed got to see Vols forward Ryan Childress propose to his girlfriend Lauren Clabough, surrounded by his chanting teammates.
“As my father would say, ‘Mazel tov’ to the Childress family,” Pearl said.