Carson-Newman is trying to put together back-to-back victories for the first time since starting the year on a four-game win streak. Lenoir-Rhyne is also searching for its first back-to-back wins since downing Francis Marion and Catawba in-a-row.
Lenoir-Rhyne factors prominently nationally as a three-point shooting team. The Bears makes 10.8 shots from deep a game, 17th in the country. The Bears have hit nine threes in every game, the exception to that is a loss to LMU when they went 4-for-19 from beyond the arc.
"We've had the discussion of how to defend them nonstop since the Catawba game as a staff with players input," Benson said. "They important thing is finding something that we believe in defensively, but we not be married to the idea either if it's not the best strategy for a game."
Billy Bales averages more than three threes per game for the Bears. Reed Lucas has nailed 21 on 35 percent shooting, while JacQues Chambers and Jarvis Calhoun have both knocked down 16 and 14 from deep, respectively.
The Bears have kept their free-wheeling tendencies that took them to the Sweet 16 last year under first-year head coach Everick Sullivan. Sullivan played collegiate basketball at Louisville under Hall of Fame head coach Denny Crum from 1988-92. Sullivan played in three NCAA tournaments and is among the Cardinals' all-time leaders in scoring (15th), assists (ninth), 3-point percentage (tenth) and dunks (tenth).
"They have some carry over from last year's team that made the region title game," Benson said." Their biggest strength is that they know how to do it and know how to win. We go into this thing without the knowledge that we had of them during the John Lentz era and same with Coach Odom last year. It's early in the season and they have so many players who are evolving each time they take the floor."
Lucas leads L-R in scoring with 14.2 per game. UT-Martin transfer Jalen Variste adds 12.4 per game. L-R has six players who average at least eight points per game.
Shuford Memorial Gym has typically been a challenging place for Carson-Newman to play. The Eagles have two wins in the building under coach Chuck Benson with 2015's 56-53 defensive grind being the first for C-N since 2010-11. C-N has been held to 60 points or less in four of its last six visits to the Shu. C-N hasn't shot better than 45 percent from the field at Lenoir-Rhyne under Benson.
Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.) has already tallied up five double-doubles this season for the Eagles. He is one away from matching Carson Brooks' six from last year. That total is the most by a single player in the Chuck Benson era. Brooks' six double-doubles is matched by Steve Williams (2006-07) for the most in school history. Jones leads the league and is 12th in the nation with his five double-doubles this year.
"Shaun's a kid who is physically gifted," Benson said. "On top of that, he's become a kid who is driven to perform and produce. We want to push him to a point where he can reach the vision we have for him. To know that he's close to the record speaks well to where he is mentally and how strong his buy-in is for this program."
A lifetime 61 percent free throw shooter. Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.) has turned into a machine at the stripe. Over the Eagles' last five games, Williams has sunk 28-of-31 freebies. That's an Ish Sanders-esque 90 percent shooting from the charity stripe.
Tipoff between the Eagles and Bears is set for 4 p.m. Saturday. Coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 3:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.