Tennessee's Kevin Punter Jr. to have season-ending surgery
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee guard Kevin Punter Jr. will undergo season-ending surgery to repair the stress fracture in his right foot that has sidelined the Volunteers' leading scorer the last four games.
Volunteers coach Rick Barnes announced Friday that Punter would undergo surgery Tuesday in New York, near Punter's home in the Bronx. The decision effectively ends the 6-foot-2 senior's college career.
''It's been really emotional,'' Punter said. ''I haven't cried in years, but I cried (Tuesday) against Vanderbilt, probably cried when I first got the news. I've been doing a lot of crying - too much crying.''
Punter is averaging 22.2 points per game to rank 11th among all Division I players. After averaging 10.3 points per game last season, Punter altered his shooting mechanics this summer at Barnes' suggestion and developed into one of the Southeastern Conference's most improved players.
He will finish with the highest single-season scoring average of any Tennessee player since Allan Houston had 22.3 points per game in 1992-93.
Punter's last game of the season was a 19-point performance Feb. 18 in a loss at Kentucky. Punter said his foot hurt so much after that game that he couldn't take his sock off, and that he could ''barely walk'' when his team returned to Knoxville.
His foot continued bothering him when he woke up the next morning.
''I couldn't put my foot down,'' Punter said. ''I was holding on to the wall trying to walk around. I knew there's no way this could just be sore or a bruise. No way. I already knew it was bad.''
Punter's parents and Barnes both recommended season-ending surgery, but Punter continued to believe he could return to action. Reality set in over the last few days.
''What he found (is) he could do a little bit going forward where I think he thought he could deal with that,'' Barnes said, ''but once he started moving sideways, he just couldn't do it.''
Punter still wanted to give it one more shot, but he eventually decided to follow his parents' advice.
''They don't want me to play,'' Punter said. ''I honestly thought about playing against Vanderbilt and not even telling them, and them just watching TV and seeing me on the court. They probably would have driven out there and killed me.''
Tennessee (13-17, 6-11 SEC) beat LSU 81-65 in its first game without Punter but has since lost three straight by an average margin of 17.7 points. Tennessee guard Robert Hubbs III also has missed two straight games with an injured right knee, and his status remains uncertain for Saturday's game with Mississippi (19-11, 9-8).
Punter's surgery prevents a potential matchup between the SEC's top two scorers on the final day of the regular season. Ole Miss guard Stefan Moody averages 23.4 points per game to rank sixth nationally and had a career-high 43 points Wednesday in an 86-78 victory over Mississippi State.
''After him having 43, I could have responded,'' Punter said. ''He's having a great season, a great season. I saw his game against Mississippi State. It would have been cool, me and him battling it out.''