VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
Tipoff between the Eagles and Highland Cavaliers is set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
"Our kids are excited to finally get a chance to play in Holt," head coach Chuck Benson said. "I've been pleased with the effort and intensity with the process our guys are going through. The biggest lessons learned are that we are playing hard, but we also have to play smart. We got into too many situations with foul trouble this past weekend. We are being very aggressive, so it's a fine line that we do have to walk."
The Eagles started the year with a 106-83 win over Southern Wesleyan and followed that up with an 88-75 win over the Peach Belt Conference's Lander Bearcats, a 20-win team last year.
UVA-Wise split games with Elizabeth City State and a Virginia Union club that sits just outside of the NABC top 25.
UVA-Wise is coached by fourth-year head coach Blake Mellinger. The name may sound familiar, he's the grandson of Carson-Newman legend Arnold Mellinger. The elder Mellinger (1954-57) is the only player in men's basketball history to have his jersey retired and ranks sixth all-time in Carson-Newman history with 1,826 career points
"That was one of the primary motivators to play this game," Benson said. "His grandfather obviously had an outstanding career here. Arnold has been a big supporter of our program over the years and has come to watch us play frequently. We wanted to have this connection with Coach Mellinger and are happy that we have this game and keep Arnold in the scene. It's obviously been a long time since he played here, but he's a guy that means a lot to this place."
The Eagles are led by Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.). The Valdosta State transfer became the first Carson-Newman guard to pull down a double-double since Charles Clark did the job last year in an overtime loss against Tusculum. Jones had 17 points and 13 boards against Lander. He is second in the conference with 11 rebounds per game.
"I never really think about it from a statistical standpoint about what a guy's going to deliver," Benson said. "I've always felt Shaun had really big time potential. I've had larger visions for him as a player here than he has had at times. He is embracing this vision that I have had for him and how he can be utilized."
Carson-Newman appears to have picked up where it left off last year in terms of offensive efficiency. In 2015-16, the Eagles had the top field goal percentage among all teams competing in the NBA, NCAA Division I, II and III. This year, the Eagles rank ninth in field goal percentage (54.5 percent) and sixth in three-point field goal percentage (53.5).
Carson-Newman hasn't faced off with UVA-Wise since 2000-01. The Eagles beat the Cavs twice that season. C-N hasn't played a school from the Mountain East or its predecessor, the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference since the 2001-02 season when the Eagles won by 18 in Montgomery, W.Va. against West Virginia Tech 79-61 in the Neal D. Baisi Center, a facility named for one of the pioneers of the zone and man-to-man press.
While the season is young, a three-headed monster appears to be developing for the Cavs. Redshirt junior forward Taiwo Badmus has played extremely well in his first two games as a Cav, posting 29 points and 21 rebounds in UVa-Wise's win over Elizabeth City State. The Fairmont State transfer followed up that performance with a 17 point, eight rebound effort in the loss to Virginia Union. Freshman guard Chance Sheffey has provided a huge spark off the bench for UVa-Wise in his first two collegiate games, averaging 19.5 points per game on 57 percent shooting. Meanwhile Dimitri Sousa averages 16.5 points per game for the Cavs.
Tipoff Wednesday between UVA-Wise and C-N is set for 7:30 p.m. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 7:15 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live