Tennessee coach Rick Barnes scored his first victory over a ranked opponent thanks to a career game from guard Kevin Punter and his team’s best defensive performance of the season.
The senior guard dropped a career-high 36 points, while the Volunteers (10-9, 3-4) held the Gamecocks (17-2, 4-2) to 41.7 percent from the floor and generated 17 turnovers in a 78-69 win.
Barnes said his team’s defensive performance against the No. 24 Gamecocks was its best 40 minutes of the season.
“Defensively, we’ve stayed in it as long as we have all year with long possessions,” Barnes said, according to The Knoxville News Sentinel’s Grant Ramey.
Punter’s outing was even more impressive. He shot 8-of-16 from the floor, including six 3-point field goals. His 36 points were the most points for a Volunteer since Ron Slay scored 38 points in 2003, according to the program. Barnes said Punter was dialed in throughout the game.
“KP was phenomenal,” Barnes said. “You could just see it. He was totally in control of what he wanted to do.”
That doesn’t mean it was an easy win. Frank Martin’s Gamecocks fought hard throughout the game and stayed within striking distance until the very end. Barnes and Martin coached against each other plenty of times when they coached at Texas at Kansas State, respectively. Barnes compared competing against Martin’s teams to an unpleasant trip to the dentist.
“It’s like going to the darn dentist,” Barnes said, according to Ramey. “With no Novocaine.”