- Associated Press - Saturday, January 23, 2016

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - South Carolina coach Frank Martin worried something like this might happen.

Martin was concerned about going on the road to face a Tennessee team looking to bounce back from a lopsided home loss to Vanderbilt. Sure enough, the 24th-ranked Gamecocks got outworked and outshot in a 78-69 loss on Saturday.

“I knew we were walking into a hornets’ nest here today,” Martin said. “I kind of knew what was coming from Tennessee. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to answer the bell.”

Kevin Punter Jr. scored a career-high 36 points as Tennessee (10-9, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) capitalized on sizzling 3-point shooting in the second half to beat South Carolina for the 16th time in their last 17 meetings. South Carolina (17-2, 4-2) ended a 15-game losing streak in this series last season by winning 60-49 at Knoxville.

After going 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the first half, Tennessee was 9 of 12 in the second half. Punter scored 27 points in the second half, when he shot 5 of 6 from 3-point range and 12 of 12 on free throws.

“When I hit the first one (in the second half), I knew I was feeling it,” Punter said. “I hit the second one, and it was like, ‘It’s over with,’ to be honest with you.”

Michael Carrera scored 22 points, Duane Notice had 14 and Chris Silva added 11 for South Carolina. Carrera played most of the game with a bandage on his chin, which required stitches after he cut it chasing a loose ball.

“Michael’s playing with stitches on his chin, a bloody nose and he’s the guy coming up with loose balls and taking charges and getting rebounds for us,” Martin said. “Nobody else would.”

The Gamecocks were unable to complete a second straight road comeback. South Carolina had won 77-74 in overtime at Mississippi on Tuesday after trailing by 11 points with just over 4 minutes left in regulation.

South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell, who entered the day averaging 12.1 points per game to tie for the team lead, scored his only two points in the final minute of the game. He has scored a total of seven points and has shot a combined 2 of 23 in South Carolina’s last two games.

“If he doesn’t play better, it’s going to be hard for us to win,” Martin said.

ICE-COLD START

Both teams were nearly as cold as the sub-freezing temperatures in Knoxville at the start of the game. The teams combined for 24 fouls, 19 turnovers and only 15 field goals in a first half that ended with Tennessee ahead 29-28.

After starting 4 of 6, South Carolina missed its next 12 shots.

BIG 12 FOES MEET AGAIN

Rick Barnes improved his record against Martin to 4-4. They were Big 12 rivals when Barnes coached Texas and Martin was at Kansas State.

“I’ll tell you what’s awesome, and that’s for Rick Barnes to be in our conference,” Martin said. “I think it’s awesome. To see him animated and excited and to see his kids playing so hard, it’s great to watch.”

TIP-INS

South Carolina: The Gamecocks couldn’t outrebound a Tennessee team that didn’t start anybody over 6-foot-5. Each team ended up with 34 rebounds. The Gamecocks entered the day with a plus-9.7 rebound margin that led the SEC and ranked 14th among all Division I teams.

Tennessee: Punter improved his season scoring average to 23.3 points per game. If he maintains that pace the rest of the season, Punter would end up with Tennessee’s highest season scoring average since Allan Houston had 23.7 points per game in 1990-91.

UP NEXT

South Carolina: Hosts Mississippi State on Tuesday.

Tennessee: Is at Alabama on Tuesday.

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