Punter scores 26, Tennessee beats Florida 83-69
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee coach Rick Barnes stated the obvious in the postgame Wednesday night, proclaiming the Vols' first-half effort against Florida to be the best 20 minutes played this season.
He's looking for a complete effort soon, though.
Kevin Punter established the pace in the first half, and Tennessee used the fast start to remain unbeaten at home this season with an 83-69 win over Florida.
Tennessee (8-6, 1-1 SEC) made 20 of 39 shots for a 53-31 halftime lead. Punter, the No. 2 scorer in the SEC at 22.8 points per game, made his first seven shots and scored 18 of his game-high 26 points before the break.
His free throws with 13:03 left to play in the second half gave Tennessee a 64-34 advantage that Florida couldn't overcome.
''Coach needs me to attack, and I need to attack,'' Punter said. ''Every day, I work my butt off. I really don't worry about nonconference, in-conference. I just stayed focused on the next opponent and just try to go in and do the best I can.''
The Vols have won all eight home contests. They snapped a four-game losing streak to Florida (9-5, 1-1) by shooting 47 percent from the floor. The Gators shot 34 percent.
Tennessee freshman Admiral Schofield contributed 17 points and eight rebounds, and Robert Hubbs III had 12 points and nine rebounds.
KeVaughn Allen paced Florida with 18 points. Dorian Finney-Smith had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Punter rested the final three minutes of the first half with two fouls, yet Tennessee's supporting cast extended the lead from 15 to 22 with a 10-3 run. Schofield, who had 15 in the half, hit a 3 from the top of the key for a 20-point lead with 1:40 remaining. Detrick Mostella scored five of his eight first-half points during Punter's breather. He finished with 10 points.
The Vols didn't play as crisply down the final stretch. Barnes noted that could have been because they weren't used to playing with such a large lead.
''We started turning the ball over and not executing,'' he said. ''But it was a great win for us. It really was. I'm really happy for our guys. We came out, and without question, it was the best game we've played all year.''
Tennessee made perimeter improvements from its previous outing at Auburn, where the Vols made 3 of 28 shots from the 3-point line. They made 6 of 19 against Florida. Punter made all three of his 3-point attempts.
Tennessee also won the rebounding battle 49-40 despite not starting anyone taller than 6-foot-7. Florida started two 6-8 players and a 6-11 center.
The Gators trimmed their deficit within 20 with less than five minutes remaining but never got the lead to single digits.
''Tennessee, wow. They just whipped us. They destroyed us,'' said Florida first-year coach Mike White. ''They were better in every facet of the game.''
NEW LOOK VOLS
Tennessee wore specially designed Nike ''Smokey Grey'' uniforms that paid homage to the 1911 and 1912 Tennessee basketball teams. It marked just the second time since 1950 that Tennessee has worn that hue, the last time also coming against Florida during the 2014 SEC Tournament.
''I think it gave a little extra energy to our fans,'' said Robert Hubbs III.
Florida: The Gators entered with a league-low 10.5 turnovers per game. They committed 14 against Tennessee.
Tennessee: Tennessee won its first SEC home-opener since 2012. That win came against Florida, 67-56. Tennessee coach Rick Barnes is now 1-0 against Florida, having never faced the Gators in 28 previous seasons as a head coach.
Florida: versus LSU on Saturday.
Tennessee: versus Texas A&M on Saturday