VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (7-5, 4-2 South Atlantic Conference) cranks open 2017 with a rivalry matchup against Tusculum (6-5, 3-3 SAC) Wednesday night at 8 inside the friendly confines of Holt Fieldhouse.
The Eagles are searching for back-to-back victories for the first time since opening the year on a four-game winning streak.
At the same time, Carson-Newman hopes to snap a string of back-to-back losses to its archrivals inside Holt Fieldhouse. The Eagles haven't beaten the Pioneers on their home floor since a 77-70 triumph over TC on Nov. 20, 2013.
"We know it will be very difficult because they've beaten us here two years running," head coach Chuck Benson said. "They are a veteran club that has a versatility and a scoring punch from the perimeter and the post."
The Pioneers have taken a pair of classics since, winning 91-90 two years ago, and withstanding a Charles Clark game-tying three at the buzzer last year to win in overtime 108-100. The Pioneers shot the ball well from distance in both those games, knocking down 10 and 17, respectively.
"It's the nature of the rivalry and of 18-22 year-old guys," Benson said. "As coaches, we'd like to think we can control all that, but to some extent, you're along for the ride. We're just looking forward to the opportunity to play it again and see what happens."
Tusculum's Cory Fagan set a program record by making a three-pointer in his 27th consecutive game in the Pioneers' win over Belmont Abbey on Dec. 30. He broke the mark of 26 set by Pat Compton during the 2000-01 season. Fagan was 0-3 from the floor in a 21-point loss for Tusculum to C-N in a meeting last year, he didn't play in the Pioneers' win over the Eagles in Holt Fieldhouse. Fagan drilled 7-of- 10 threes against the Eagles in a 2014 91-90 Pioneer win over C-N in Jefferson City.
"We have to do a good job of finding him in transition," Benson said. "And he's not the only one, they have four or five guys who can put it in in deep. We can't chase our tails defending him and them. We have to also flip the script and have our defense complement our offense."
In addition to Fagan, the Pioneers are adept at shooting threes as a team. Tusculum ranks 14th in the nation and third in the three-point happy SAC in threes per game. TC averages 10.9 makes a game at a 39.5 percent clip. Zack Hartle leads the SAC in three-point field goal percentage with a 54.5 percent clip.
The Pioneers have knocked down at least 10 threes in all but three games this season. The Pioneers have canned at least 15 threes on three occasions.
Carson-Newman snapped a string of 10 consecutive losses when it shot 45 percent or worse from the field when it downed Mars Hill on 42 percent shooting on New Year's Eve. Carson-Newman's last win when shooting worse than 45 percent from the field came on Dec. 10, 2014 when the Eagles tallied a four-point win over Lenoir-Rhyne on 42 percent shooting.
It only took 12 games for Valdosta State transfer Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.) to insert himself into the Carson-Newman record books. Jones tallied his sixth double-double of the year in the Eagles' 76-71 win at Mars Hill with 18 points and 10 rebounds. The double-double tied him with Carson Brooks (2014-15) and Scott Williams (2006-07) for the most double-doubles in a single season in Carson-Newman history. Jones is 16th in the country and tops in the conference with his six double-doubles.
Jones continues to lead the South Atlantic Conference in rebounding with 9.7 collected caroms a game. Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) continues to lead the league in scoring with 20.8 points per game.
Tipoff between the Eagles and Pioneers is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 7:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.