Punter stays hot as Tennessee beats Florida Atlantic 81-62
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Kevin Punter is in the kind of scoring groove no Tennessee player has experienced in nearly a decade.
Punter scored 24 points as Tennessee defeated Florida Atlantic 81-62 on Wednesday night to snap a three-game skid. Punter exceeded the 20-point mark for the sixth straight game, something no Volunteer had done since Chris Lofton in 2006.
The senior guard scored 15 points during an 18-2 run that put the game away after Florida Atlantic had gotten within five. Punter said afterward he didn't feel he was attacking enough earlier in the game.
''I started talking to myself, saying guys aren't going to stop me,'' Punter said. ''I was just trying to be aggressive.''
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said Punter also benefited from the presence of teammate Kyle Alexander. Although Alexander only had six points and five rebounds, Barnes believed the 6-foot-9 forward helped put the game away.
After trailing by as many as 15 points in the first half, Florida Atlantic cut the deficit to 53-48 on a pair of Jeantal Cylla free throws with 9:46 remaining. Tennessee responded with its 18-2 spurt that put the game out of reach.
''I thought Kyle maybe for the first time fought through fatigue,'' Barnes said. ''All those points that KP started scoring through that flurry were really because of him. He did just a great job of fighting for his space and really doing his job. I thought he really got very conscious of getting down into his stance on the defensive end.''
Armani Moore added 16 points and Devon Baulkman had 11 points for Tennessee. Solomon Poole scored 10 points to lead Florida Atlantic (2-8), which has lost five of its last six games.
Florida Atlantic was playing a road game for the second straight night. The Owls lost 80-73 on Tuesday at Eastern Kentucky.
Owls coach Michael Curry said he wanted his team to play on back-to-back nights to prepare for the grind of the Conference USA schedule. Curry also noted Florida Atlantic would have to play games on consecutive days if it made a deep run in the conference tournament.
Curry believed Florida Atlantic's fade down the stretch wasn't a result of fatigue. He instead cited Tennessee's ability to drive to the basket and draw fouls.
''This team really challenges you off the dribble, and that's been a thing that we struggle with,'' Curry said. ''Punter and Moore, they do a good job of attacking and driving.''
Tennessee was playing its first home game since a 95-80 victory over Army on Nov. 24. The Vols are 5-0 at home and 0-4 away from Thompson-Boling Arena this season.
Florida Atlantic: The Owls had a Tennessee connection in C.J. Turman. The sophomore forward from Madison, Georgia, signed with the Volunteers in November 2013 but was granted a release from his letter of intent after former Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin left for California. Turman had seven points Wednesday before fouling out.
Tennessee: Tennessee played a second straight game without junior guard Robert Hubbs Jr., who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Dec. 1. Hubbs has averaged 15.3 points per game this season to rank third on the team.
Walk-on guard Brad Woodson made his Tennessee debut Wednessday, and he entered long before the Vols had put the game away. Tennessee led 41-30 when Barnes put Woodson in the game with 17:28 left.
Woodson ended up with one rebound and one assist in seven minutes. Walk-on guard Lucas Campbell also made his Tennessee debut in the game's final minute.
Tennessee outscored Florida Atlantic 42-20 in the paint and outrebounded the Owls 45-31. The Vols also went 24 of 33 on free throws, while Florida Atlantic was 16 of 22. Florida Atlantic forward C.J. Turman and center Ronald Delph both fouled out.
Florida Atlantic: Faces Florida State on Saturday in Sunrise, Florida.
Tennessee: Faces Gonzaga on Saturday in Seattle.