Eagles ready for roadie to Hickory
That result has been indicative of the series history under Carson-Newman head coach Chuck Benson. Carson-Newman hasn't scored more than 70 points against the Bears under Benson. Five of the seven meetings between the teams under Benson have been decided by less than seven points. C-N owns a 4-3 record against the Bears under the Eagles' fourth-year head coach.
Carson-Newman has knocked off L-R two straight times, but both those games came at Holt Fieldhouse. The Eagles won in the regular season 61-58 on a last second Ish Sanders' (Cleveland, Tenn.) three before enduring an eight-minute field goal drought to stiff-arm the Bears in the opening round of the SAC tournament 58-54.
"They're a scary club," Benson said. "They've got eight seniors who aren't going to go out there and be wishy-washy. Then you've got head coach John Lentz, who is the South Atlantic Conference (Lentz has been at L-R for 28 years and is the school's all-time winningest coach). You take veteran players, a veteran coaching staff and a consistent scheme, that's a tough deal to go up against."
The Bears, who have adapted well to the departure of first team All-SAC performer Denzel Dillingham, are led by RJ McClure, who's 21 points per game are fifth in the SAC.
"It's a testament to his teammates," Benson said. "They really do a good job of looking for him. They know he needs to get looks and he's super confident as a senior. It's his team and his time to do his part. But the point where he's made the biggest jump is getting to the free throw line."
McClure has hit 43 of 45 free throws to account for a third of his points at the charity stripe. He ranks eighth in the nation in free throw percentage. Point guard Jarvis Perry is second in the SAC in assists with 5.3 per game. He also averages 5.2 boards a game, second on the squad.
"He knows his role and has confidence in his teammates to make shots," Benson said. "I've looked at this team a lot, I think McClure is their emotional leader, but I'm not so sure that Perry's not their engine. I sense that he brings a calming presence to them, I've got a ton of respect for the guy."
As a team, the Eagles will have to contend with the nation's 16th best three point defense. Teams have hit just 27 percent of their threes against the Bears. The Eagles are averaging 8.9 threes a game. Sanders and Antoine Davis (Rustburg, Va.) are third and fourth in the SAC in three-point shooting.
Sanders is three points away from becoming the seventh Eagle all-time with more than 1,500 career points.
Tipoff Saturday between the Eagles and Bears is set for 7 p.m. from Shuford Gymnasiun. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network gets underway at 6:45 p.m. with the Countdown to Tipoff on 106.3 ESPN Radio the Zone (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.