|JaJuan Smith and Chris Lofton lead No. 4 Tennessee to SEC title|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 05 March 2008 23:58|
They lost 72-69 to Vanderbilt in their first game as a top-ranked team early last week and then beat Kentucky 63-60 on Sunday.
After dropping to fourth in the rankings, Tennessee had another close one Wednesday night, beating Florida 89-86 to set a school record with its 27th victory and clinch its first Southeastern Conference regular-season title since 1967.
``You hate to equate it to what's bigger, but it's clearly one of the biggest wins of the last three years,'' Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. ``To win it outright against the competition we're facing is special.
``I hope everyone back home is celebrating. You have to respect the competition to appreciate how difficult it was for us to do this on a night Florida played great basketball.''
JaJuan Smith scored 23 points and Chris Lofton added 21 for the Volunteers (27-3, 13-2), who trailed by 16 points in the first half.
But Tennessee turned to Smith and Lofton down the stretch, and they delivered. The duo combined to shoot 15-of-26 from the field, including 8-of-15 from 3-point range.
``Those two guys, they do it every single game,'' Gators coach Billy Donovan said. ``It's a special and unique quality that they have to really be able to make extremely difficult shots and I thought that was the difference in the game in the second half.''
In other games involving ranked teams on Wednesday, it was: No. 2 Memphis 72, SMU 55; No. 6 Duke 86, Virginia 70; No. 10 Wisconsin 77, Penn State 41; No. 16 Vanderbilt 86, Mississippi State 85 in overtime; No. 18 Indiana 69, Minnesota 55; and No. 19 Notre Dame 68, St. John's 55.
The Gators (21-9, 8-7) made their first nine shots, were ahead 35-19 midway through the first half and looked like they might get their biggest win of the season.
``I'm starting to think Coach Pearl is a genius,'' Smith said. ``I just figured it out. He told us before the game that Florida was going to come out hot. ... He told us, 'Handle it. They're not going to keep shooting the ball that well.'''
Lofton and Smith started shooting well late, especially from long range.
Lofton's first 3, a wide-open shot from the elbow, made it 63-58. His second, an off-balance shot with a defender in his face, got it to 69-68 and started a 14-0 run.
Smith's two 3s were equally impressive. After he gave the Volunteers their first lead of the game, 70-69, with a layup, he hit 3s on consecutive possessions.
Nick Calathes had 24 points and nine assists for Florida, which had two chances to tie at the end of the game.
The two-time defending national champions have lost six of their last nine and might need to win the SEC tournament to make their 10th consecutive NCAA tournament.
No. 2 Memphis 72, SMU 55
Derrick Rose scored 19 points and Chris Douglas-Roberts added 18 as the Tigers (29-1, 15-0 Conference USA) extended their road winning streak to 18 games and finished unbeaten on the road for the first time since 1960-61, going 10-0.
Jon Killen had 16 points for the Mustangs (9-19, 3-12).
No. 6 Duke 86, Virginia 70
Gerald Henderson scored 19 points to lead five Blue Devils in double figures and set up Saturday's showdown between Duke and top-ranked North Carolina for the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship.
Sean Singletary had 18 points for the Cavaliers (14-14, 4-11), who were playing their third game in five days.
No. 10 Wisconsin 77, Penn St. 41
Marcus Landry scored 15 points for the Badgers (25-4, 15-2), who clinched at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship. They finish the season at Northwestern on Saturday and a victory would give them the outright championship.
Talor Battle had 10 points for the visiting Nittany Lions (14-15, 6-11).
No. 16 Vanderbilt 86, Mississippi St. 85, OT
Shan Foster, Vanderbilt's all-time leading scorer, had a career-high 42 points and hit his final nine 3-point attempts, the last with 2.7 seconds left in overtime. Foster, who missed his first six 3-point attempts, scored Vanderbilt's final eight points. The Senior Night victory allowed the Commodores (25-5, 10-5 Southeastern Conference) to finish 19-0 at home this season.
Jamont Gordon had 24 points for the Bulldogs (20-9, 11-4), who had a three-game winning streak snapped.
No. 18 Indiana 69, Minnesota 55
Eric Gordon scored nine of his 20 points during a decisive late run and D.J. White had 17 points in his final home game for the Hoosiers (25-5, 14-3). Indiana, which has won 25 regular-season games for the first time since 1992-93, is tied for second in the conference with Purdue, one game behind Wisconsin.
Lawrence McKenzie had 22 points for the Gophers (18-11, 8-9).
No. 19 Notre Dame 68, St. John's 55
Luke Harangody scored 20 points and the Fighting Irish (23-6, 13-4) became the first Big East team to go undefeated at home in conference play in consecutive seasons. Notre Dame extended its Big East home winning streak to 18 games, two shy of the league record set by Pittsburgh over three seasons, ending in 2004. The Irish extended their overall home winning streak to 37 games, one shy of the school record set from 1943-48.
Anthony Mason Jr. had 16 points for the Red Storm (11-18, 5-12), who dropped their 22nd straight road game to a ranked team dating to 2002.