Jan. 23, 2016
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KNOXVILLE, TENN — A career day from Tennessee’s Kevin Punter would be too much to overcome for the No. 24/18 South Carolina Gamecocks, who fell to the Vols 78-69 Saturday afternoon. Michael Carrera scored a season-high 22 points but was countered by Punter’s career-high 36, 27 that came in the second half alone. Carolina falls back to 17-2 overall and 4-2 in the SEC, Tennessee is 10-9, 3-4 in conference play.
Chris Silva paced the team early on, scoring six of the team’s first 10 points and pulling down four of its first eight rebounds. Both teams needed time early to adjust to the physicality of the game, and two would combine for just eight field goals in the first eight minutes of action. Tennessee took advantage of 12-straight missed field goals for the Gamecocks and built its widest margin of the half with a 19-11 with seven minutes remaining in the period.
Despite the lack of scoring from the Gamecocks, Tennessee would not be able to take full advantage. It would only outscore Carolina 9-1 in the eight minutes between field goals, and would only stake itself out to the eight-point lead before PJ Dozier broke the spell with a layup at the 6:27 mark. The basket would open things up for the team, as it led to a 7-0 run that got the Gamecocks back in the mix in the final five minutes of action.
The Vols tried to pull away one last time before the break, but three more points from Silva and a 3-pointer by Michael Carrera made it a 29-28 UT lead at halftime. Silva would finish with nine points and five rebounds in the half, but ten turnovers and a 33 percent success rate from the floor kept the Gamecocks from taking the lead at any point in the first 20 minutes.
A pair of 3s from the Volunteers opened the second half and forced an early South Carolina timeout. The Gamecocks rallied back behind three-point plays inside from Laimonas Chatkevicius and Carrera, but Tennessee hit its third and fourth 3s of the first four minutes to carry a 43-36 lead into the first media timeout. In total, the home side converted its first seven attempts from 3 in the second half to push the lead into double digits with nine minutes to play (58-47).
Kevin Punter, the conference’s second-leading scorer, paced Tennessee in the second half. He accounted for 14 of the team’s first 29 points, all coming in just 10 minutes of playing time for the senior. After back-to-back baskets from Carolina cut the UT down to 58-53, the Vols took advantage of mental mistakes and scored nine straight points in just over two minutes to push the lead back into double digits with five minutes to go.
South Carolina rallied back within six, 68-62, with 2:24 still remaining, but Punter would convert ten straight free throws over the next two minutes to put any shot at back-to-back comebacks to rest for Carolina.
Kevin Punter’s 27 points in the second half alone would be too much for the Gamecocks to overcome. He accounted for more than half of the team’s 49 total, and finished with the most points by an opponent since Michael Frazier dropped 37 on Carolina on March 4, 2014. Punter hit 14-of-15 free throws and 6-of-11 3-pointers.
Tennessee was deadly from 3-point range in the second half, making seven straight from deep to open the period and finished 9-of-12. That came after the Volunteers hit just 1-of-9 in the first half.
After two road games this week, Carolina will be home for a pair of SEC contests next week, hosting Mississippi State on Tuesday (Jan. 26), before welcoming Alabama for an evening matchup on Saturday (Jan. 30). The meeting versus the Bulldogs will be the first of two this season between the two schools, and the Alabama contest is a rematch between the Crimson Tide and Gamecocks. On Jan. 13, Alabama handed Carolina its only loss of the season thus far in Tuscaloosa. Both games will be televised on the SEC Network.
- Tennessee is now 16-1 over the last 17 meetings, dating back to 2008.
- The Gamecocks enjoyed a 40-14 advantage in points in the paint and 29-14 in bench scoring.
- Chris Silva had his best game in SEC play Saturday, finishing with 11 points, five rebounds and a career-high three steals.
- Michael Carrera moved past 900 career points in the loss, and now needs just 81 more points to join Sindarius Thornwell in the 1,000- point club this season.