VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
VIDEO: Shaun Jones Interview
VIDEO: Parker Role' Interview
MARS HILL, N.C. – Trailing by 12 at the half, Carson-Newman (7-5, 4-2 South Atlantic Conference) dialed up the defensive pressure to turn the tide with a 24-5 run and close out 2016 with a 76-71 win over Mars Hill (3-9, 1-5 SAC) Saturday at Burt Stanford Arena.
Carson-Newman fell behind 38-26 at the halftime break as Mars Hill knocked down 9-of-20 three-point field goal attempts. The Eagles were playing without the services of Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.) who was injured, while leading scorer Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) and third-leading scorer Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.) were each saddled with first half foul trouble.
"Mars Hill is a very capable team," head coach Chuck Benson said. "We knew this would be an even tougher game because they had already knocked some rust off against Western Carolina. Additionally, we had to adjust to not playing with Sawyer Williams. When we finally did that, we started playing well."
The Eagles loped out of the gates to start the second half with a 10-2 run and had the lead in hand 44-43 following back-to-back Clark threes. The Clark triples were the impetus for a 25-4 run that saw Carson-Newman take a 15-point lead with 4:37 to play on following a thunderous Josh Murray (Burlington, N.C.) jam and a pair of Clark free throws.
"We were in a pretty adverse situation with Charles and Shaun in foul trouble in the first half," Benson said. "Our guys showed great poise. They had a great reaction to the adversity we faced today."
The big trigger for the Eagles over the spurt was defense. C-N forced five turnovers in seven possessions to help insight the run. Mars Hill coughed it up 19 times on the day, a season high for turnovers forced for the Eagles. C-N had 11 steals, led by four swipes from Zack Pangallo (Newport, Ky,) and three from Malik Abraham (Snellville, Ga.).
"Defense was the difference in the second half," Benson said. "I give credit to coach Shane Williams and coach Ray Likely. We extended out a little bit. Sped them up and got them out of their comfort zone, it worked well."
Mars Hill made a late push with a 7-0 spurt, followed by a 6-0 spurt to make things interesting down the stretch. However, Clark and Jones knocked down free throws in the final minute to keep the lead at two possessions, securing the win.
Jones matched Carson Brooks and Scott Williams for the single-season Carson-Newman record for double-doubles with his sixth of the year. He had 18 points and 10 rebounds. Abraham matched him in the scoring column with 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting.
Clark had 16 points and eight boards.
Perhaps the biggest impact though was Parker Role' (Atlanta, Ga.). Playing significant minutes in Williams absence, Role' tallied career highs for points (12), rebounds (nine), field goals made (five) and minutes played (25). He also had two blocks.
"My coaches and teammates helped me to stay with it and stay with it," Role' said. "Saw being out is a huge deal for us. But Josh and I did what we were capable of. The first half was rough for me, but I settled down in the second half and just started playing harder."
Role' started slow but hit four of his first five shots in the second half to help spark the Eagles.
"Parker accounted for himself marvelously," Benson said. "I want success for Parker. He had a great week of practice and we told him he'd be getting the nod. He played to his strengths. Parker did an outstanding job in a tough situation in a conference game on the road."
Bennett Wilson led Mars Hill with 17 points. Valentin Bauer only had six points, but grabbed six boards and handed out eight assists.
The Eagles grabbed their first win in 11 games when shooting worse than 45 percent from the field. C-N finished with a 42.2 percent shooting clip. C-N limited Mars Hill to 39 percent shooting.
Carson-Newman kicks off 2017 at home against Tusculum Jan. 4. Coverage of the rivalry game with the Pioneers starts at 7:45 on the Eagle Sports Network with an 8 p.m. tip. The game is available on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.