Punter gets 36 as Tennessee tops No. 24 South Carolina 78-69
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As soon as he made his first shot of the second half, Tennessee’s Kevin Punter Jr. knew how the rest of his day would go.
Punter scored a career-high 36 points as Tennessee capitalized on sizzling 3-point shooting in the second half for a 78-69 victory over No. 24 South Carolina on Saturday. Punter scored 27 points in the second half, when he shot 5 of 6 from 3-point range and 12 of 12 from the free throw line.
“When I hit the first one, I knew I was feeling it,” Punter said. “I hit the second one, and it was like, ‘It’s over with,’ to be honest with you.”
Punter had the highest point total of any Tennessee player since Ron Slay scored 38 against New Mexico on Jan. 4, 2003.
Tennessee (10-9, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) made its first seven 3-point attempts of the second half, with Punter connecting on four. After going 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the first half, Tennessee was 9 of 12 in the second half.
“KP was phenomenal,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “When he got in the flow, you could just see it. He was totally in control of what he wanted to do.”
Robert Hubbs III scored 12 points and Detrick Mostella added 10 for Tennessee, which shot 30 of 32 from the free throw line and beat South Carolina for the 16th time in their last 17 meetings.
South Carolina (17-2, 4-2) ended a 15-game losing streak in this series last season by winning 60-49 at Knoxville.
“Their guards just completely destroyed our guards,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “On defense, we couldn’t guard them. We couldn’t keep them out of the paint. We were lucky they missed some shots in the first half. And then on offense, we couldn’t dribble the ball past the halfcourt line. We couldn”t pass it. Hard to run any offense when you can’t pass.”
Michael Carrera scored 22 points, Duane Notice had 14 and Chris Silva added 11 for South Carolina. Carrera played most of the game with a bandage on his chin, which required stitches after he cut it chasing a loose ball.
South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell, who entered the day averaging 12.1 points per game to tie for the team lead, scored his only two points in the final minute of the game. He has scored a total of seven points and has shot a combined 2 of 23 in South Carolina’s last two games.
“If he doesn’t play better, it’s going to be hard for us to win,” Martin said.
Both teams were nearly as cold as the sub-freezing temperatures in Knoxville at the start of the game. The teams combined for 24 fouls, 19 turnovers and only 15 field goals in a first half that ended with Tennessee ahead 29-28.
After starting 4 of 6, South Carolina missed its next 12 shots.
BIG 12 FOES MEET AGAIN
Barnes improved his record against Martin to 4-4. They were Big 12 rivals when Barnes coached Texas and Martin was at Kansas State.
“I’ll tell you what’s awesome, and that’s for Rick Barnes to be in our conference,” Martin said. “I think it’s awesome. To see him animated and excited and to see his kids playing so hard, it’s great to watch.”
South Carolina: The Gamecocks couldn’t outrebound a Tennessee team that didn’t start anybody over 6-foot-5. Each team ended up with 34 rebounds. The Gamecocks entered the day with a plus-9.7 rebound margin that led the SEC and ranked 14th among all Division I teams.
Tennessee: Punter improved his season scoring average to 23.3 points per game. If he maintains that pace the rest of the season, Punter would end up with Tennessee’s highest season scoring average since Allan Houston had 23.7 points per game in 1990-91.
South Carolina: Hosts Mississippi State on Tuesday.
Tennessee: Is at Alabama on Tuesday.
This story has been corrected to show in the seventh paragraph that Robert Hubbs III - not Devon Baulkman - scored 12 points for Tennessee.