VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
VIDEO: Shaun Jones Interview
VIDEO: Malik Abraham Interview
The game featured a whopping 17 ties and 22 lead changes. Neither team led by more than seven throughout the 202nd meeting between the rivals. The win for Carson-Newman ties the series 101-101.
The Railsplitters trailed by five with 31 seconds to play in overtime following a pair of Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) free throws. A Luquon Choice three brought the Railsplitters within a pair, then Cornelius Taylor forced a turnover to get LMU the ball with 17 seconds to play. Paul Woodson followed up a miss with a bunny from the left block to tie it at 109.
However, Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.) found Abraham streaking up the floor along the right sideline to set up the heroics for the Eagles.
"In transition, I saw Shaun (Jones) looking up the floor," Abraham said. "We had a two-on-one break with me and Sawyer Williams. I knew they weren't going to close out on me. So I took the shot, and God-willing, it went in."
The win halts innumerable streaks for the Railsplitters. LMU had won 29 straight consecutive regular season SAC games. Coincidentally, Carson-Newman wass the last league opponent to defeat the Railsplitters in both regular season and tournament play. The Eagles beat LMU 87-72 on February 4, 2015 before capturing a 63-48 win over the Railsplitters in the SAC Championship title game that year.
The win also snapped LMU's string of 24 straight SAC road wins. In another unusual twist of fate, Carson-Newman is also responsible for the Railsplitters' last league road loss on February 5, 2014. LMU had gone 11-0 on the road in SAC play in each of the past two seasons.
The loss for the Railsplitters also means LMU has lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2012. LMU lost in succession to Anderson and Carson-Newman in February of 2012. Excluding season-ending losses, Lincoln Memorial was 13-0 coming into Tuesday's game after a loss.
"Wow! Wow! That was a good one," head men's basketball coach Chuck Benson said. "LMU is very deserving of their national ranking. That is a good team. I'm so proud though of our guys and so happy for them. The poise and resilience they showed is tremendous. It fell in our favor at the end. This is a game that really could have gone either way."
Carson-Newman weathered an LMU offensive storm. The Railsplitters fired away at a 58 percent clip, including 8-of-12 shooting from three. Carson-Newman shot 49 percent from the field and 54 percent from three, but made up for it at the line by making nine more free throws than LMU. The Eagles went 26-for-30 at the stripe.
"They are an elite offense," Benson said. "We had a pretty distinct strategy of trying to limit their three-point shooting. Their posts stepped up big. We were willing to live with that because we didn't want them to get to happy. We felt like could score the ball and could score it in winning time, and that's what happened."
LMU was outrebounding the Eagles 21-12 at the break, but C-N made a concerted effort on the glass after halftime to outrebound the Railsplitters 27-16 the rest of the way.
The combination of Jones and Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) proved to be formidable for the Eagles. Both players had 26 points. Jones snagged a double-double with 11 boards while Clark finished a rebound shy of his third career double-double with nine. Jones was an efficient 10-for-18 from the floor while Clark finished 8-for-14 with a pair of threes. Clark was a flawless 8-for-8 at the charity stripe.
"Shaun is a tough matchup because he's undersized but physical," Benson said. "He never stops going to the boards. No one's surprised by Charles. I thought Reece Anderson and Malik were both huge tonight. They both made shots at critical times. I'm so pleased for them and the team in general."
Anderson proved 25 quality minutes off the bench with seven points. Aside from the game winner, Abraham had 15. Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.) wound up with 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting. Mason Bates (Cookeville, Tenn.) added 10.
LMU also finished with five players in double figures. Luquon Choice led the way with 25 while Dorian Pinson added 22. Emmanuel Terry, Cornelius Taylor and USF transfer Chris Perry finished with 16, 13 and 12, respectively.
As impressive as the Eagles' five double-digit scorers were, Benson was equally as thrilled about the crowd of 1,571 fans in the stands.
"I was stunned with the crowd tonight," Benson said. "Without the students (who are on Thanksgiving break), I wasn't sure what kind of showing we would have tonight. I don't know if we could have had a better showing. Thank you to our local fans, our faculty and staff at Carson-Newman, and for LMU for bringing their fans. We were very fortunate. The atmosphere the last two games have been outstanding and the best that it's been since I've been here."
Jones noted that the Eagle fans made a difference.
"The crowd was big," Jones said. "We appreciate everyone for coming. We loved the energy they brought."
The win improves Carson-Newman to 4-3 against teams in the top 10 over the last five seasons.
Carson-Newman hits the road for the Kentucky Wesleyan Classic the day after Thanksgiving. Tipoff Friday with Hillsdale from Owensboro, Ky., is scheduled for 2 p.m. Coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 1:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.