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January 7, 2007

No. 19 Vols top Bulldogs in SEC opener

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Chris Lofton scored 21 points and Duke Crews added 18 to help No. 19 Tennessee open the Southeastern Conference slate with a 92-84 win over Mississippi State on Sunday.

Jamont Gordon was one assist shy of a triple-double, but it wasn't enough for the Bulldogs (9-5), who have not won on the road in the SEC since the end of the 2004-05 season.

Gordon finished with a career-high 25 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

The Volunteers (13-2) have won nine in a row since back-to-back losses to Butler and North Carolina in November, their longest winning streak since opening the 2000-01 season at 9-0.

Mississippi State trailed all of the first half, but grabbed the lead early in the second half, taking advantage of Tennessee turnovers in a 14-2 run. The Bulldogs expanded their lead to as many as five, but Tennessee chipped away and regained the lead - briefly.

JaJuan Smith hit a 3 after Crews rebounded Dane Bradshaw's missed free throw to put the Vols up 68-67 with 9:06 left. Gordon scored at the other end to get the lead back for the Bulldogs. But Tennessee rallied again, and Lofton's pair of free throws put the Vols ahead 74-73 with 6:21 to go.

Ryan Childress followed with a 3-pointer to extend the lead, and the Vols never trailed again.

Ramar Smith added 13 points and seven assists, and JaJuan Smith had 12 points for Tennessee.

Lofton had only one 3-pointer, but was 8-of-10 from the foul line.

Mississippi State also had 15 points apiece from Charles Rhodes and Reginald Delk, and Barry Stewart had 12 points. Rhodes also had 10 rebounds.

The Bulldogs have lost three straight overall. Their young team went 0-8 on the road in the SEC last season and have lost 10 in a row to ranked teams since beating then-No. 22 South Carolina in February 2004.

Mississippi State is still fairly inexperienced, starting two freshmen and three sophomores, but they were scrappy. And many the Vols tried to recruit. Gordon is from Nashville.

Both teams shot 55 percent from the field, demonstrating the competitiveness of the squads. In the end, Tennessee had 20 made free throws to Mississippi State's 10.

The Vols were leading by 10 early in the second half when Mississippi State had a 14-2 run to take its first lead of the game. Gordon's reverse layup with 15:10 put the Bulldogs up 58-56, and Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl immediately called timeout.

Mississippi State couldn't keep the Vols down long.

Tennessee was ahead 49-42 at halftime after the officials reviewed the final basket to determine if it made it before the buzzer. They ruled Ramar Smith tipped back a missed 3-pointer by Lofton.

For more coverage of the Tennessee Volunteers, check out VolQuest.com; for more on the Mississippi State Bulldogs, check out BulldogBlitz.com.

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