RALEIGH, N.C. — Kevin Punter wasn’t concerned.
It was the afternoon of Dec. 9. Three days earlier the junior college transfer had scored seven points on 2-of-7 shooting in Tennessee’s one-point win against Kansas State.
He was now averaging 9.2 points and shooting 41.2 percent from the field.
Not bad. Not exactly what Punter had in mind, either.
“I’m still getting my legs under me,” he said. “A lot of people, I feel like, are kind of worried. But I’m not. I’ve been going through this for a while now. I’m going to pick it up.”
The junior two guard did just that in UT’s upset of Butler on Sunday. He scored the Vols’ first four points and finished with a career-high 18 points on 7-10 shooting. He showcased a mid-range jumper that rivaled that of UT lead scorer Josh Richardson. Together the two combined for 38 points to help topple the Bulldogs.
“He drove the ball, was aggressive off the dribble,” UT coach Donnie Tyndall said after the game. “He didn’t settle for bad shots. Kev is a good player when he does that. He was really good tonight.”
Punter will look to keep his momentum rolling as UT (4-3) plays its first true road game of the season tonight (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.) against N.C. State (8-2).
“I don’t know that Kevin is every going to be a guy that averages 18 a game,” Tyndall said Tuesday. “But I certainly think he is a double-figure scorer. He scored it well in junior college. He’s a guy that lets the game come to him. He doesn’t take a lot of bad shots. He is getting more and more comfortable with the speed at this level, how fast Division I basketball is. He settled in.”
Punter was a prolific scorer at State Fair Community College (Sedalia, Mo.) last season. He averaged 20.3 points and shot 57.1 percent from the field. His 651 points tied for 13th among junior-college players. He was named first-team junior college All-American.
It’s probably unrealistic to expect that production to make the leap to the Division I level in its entirety. But Tyndall, who relied heavily on junior-college transfers at Southern Miss, can speak to how JuCo guys like Punter tend to hit their stride after the first semester. It takes some time to adjust. One good came can lead to another. And so on.
“I think any newcomer would have a little more swagger playing that well against such a quality opponent,” Tyndall said.
The more offensive firepower Punter can add, the better. Just ask Richardson if he needs some help.
“He played a great game (against Butler),” Richardson said. “I’m going to tell him to keep attacking.”
“Probably six steals. I almost got the (school) record. I’m going to get it this year, though. Watch.” - Richardson on if he was more proud of his season-high 20 points against Butler or his career-high six steals
“T.J. Warren is gone.” – Richardson on what he takes from last year’s loss to N.C. State
“Those guy are all going to do some good things. Then they’re going to do some things where you scratch your head saying, ‘Wow, can you believe he did that?” — Tyndall on his trio of freshmen forwards, Willie Carmichael, Jabari McGhee and Tariq Owens
Numbers to Know:
1: N.C. State sophomore center BeeJay Anya leads the ACC in blocked shots. He averages 3.7 blocks per game. As a team the Wolf Pack ranks first in the ACC and sixth in the nation in blocked shots (6.9).
+5.7: Armani Moore’s plus-minus rating, the best on the team
6.1: Number of free throws N.C. State point guard Cat Barber averages per game
16.3: Number of points N.C. State guard Ralston Turner has averaged over the last three games