[title_box title=”Vols down No. 24 South Carolina, 78-69″]
After close losses to the likes of Butler, Gonzaga, and Texas A&M this season, Tennessee finally notched a win against a quality opponent when it took down No. 24 South Carolina on Saturday, 78-69, in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee had a solid win on Jan. 6 against Florida, but has struggled since. The low point for the Vols came in a Wednesday night drubbing at the hands of in-state rival Vanderbilt.
A bounce back against the Gamecocks provided Tennessee with its first win over a ranked opponent since defeating then-No. 19 Arkansas just over a year ago.
Kevin Punter scored a career-high 36 points for the Vols. Punter was nearly unstoppable from beyond the arc, busting six three-pointers. He also came close to perfect at the free throw line, hitting 14-of-15.
“The second half, we got going, and KP (Punter) was phenomenal,” said head coach Rick Barnes.
“When he got in the flow, you could just see it. He was totally in control of what he wanted to do.”
Saturday’s 36-point performance marked the third time this season that Punter has scored over 30.
Also contributing to the upset victory, Robert Hubbs III managed to score 12 points and secure eight rebounds. Detrick Mostella added 10 points, including two three-pointers.
For South Carolina, Michael Carrera scored 22 points. Veteran Duane Notice and Chris Silva also scored in double figures. The Gamecocks’ leading scorer on the season, Sindarius Thornwell, did not put any points on the board.
The Vols dominated the final 20 minutes after both teams struggled to hit shots early. Tennessee never trailed in the second half, but South Carolina did cut the lead to five in the game’s closing minutes.
Both teams shot around 41 percent from the field, and both had 34 rebounds. The difference in the game was clearly at the free throw line.
“One thing South Carolina does a great job with, and I think teams that really understand winning do, is they normally make more free throws than their opponents shoot,” said Barnes.
“The fact is, we did a great job on the free throw line today.”
The Vols shot close to 94 percent (30-of-32) from the stripe, whereas the Gamecocks only hit 15 foul shots.
Tennessee will get back to work soon after celebrating the win, as it prepares for Alabama on Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa. Tip-off is set for 9 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.
Featured image by Ben Ozburn
Edited by Nathan Odom