VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
As the Eagles come home after four of their last five on the road, so too will the 2001-02 Sweet 16 team, which will be in town for its 15-year reunion.
That team won 19 straight games en route to SAC regular season and tournament titles. C-N was the host institution for the Atlantic Regional before falling by one to Shaw and soon-to-be Seattle Supersonic Ronald Murray in the Sweet 16. Kyle Gribble became Carson-Newman basketball's first NCAA Division II All-American following the campaign.
"We're excited about everything going on this weekend," head coach Chuck Benson said. "There's a lot of stuff happening this weekend and we're so excited to get these Eagles back on campus. We can't wait for them to get a look at what's happening here now, and hopefully we can honor them with our performance."
This year, Carson-Newman would love to start a similar winning streak with five games left in the regular season.
Carson-Newman has been a different team at home. The Eagles average 92 points per game inside the friendly confines of Holt Fieldhouse and 83 points away from it. On top of that, C-N is shooting 52 percent from the field and 44 percent from three in Holt compared to 47 percent and 38 percent shooting from deep on the road.
C-N has won three straight at home, and hasn't lost to Lenoir-Rhyne in Holt since a 66-60 Bears' win Jan. 7, 2012. That year was also the last time the Bears swept C-N. The Eagles have won five in-a-row at home against L-R.
Lenoir-Rhyne is one of the more prolific three-point shooting teams in the country. The Bears are eighth in the country in threes made per game. L-R cans 11.3 a contest. The Bears are coming off a 96- 67 shellacking of Coker in which the Bears made 15-of-32 threes. The Bears drained a season-high 16 from beyond the arc in their 72-66 win over Carson-Newman on Dec. 17.
"That first game before a break is always challenging," Benson said. "You're on the road. After the game's over your going home to spend time with your family. Then on top of that, Sawyer was battling a debilitating migraine and Shaun Jones didn't have one of his better shot-making nights. Those things happen, you don't want to admit it, but they do. Going into this game, I think our guys will be extra motivated to play well down the stretch."
It's not one single Bear that does heavy damage from beyond the arc, but a cavalcade of players firing away from the three-point stripe. Four players make at least two threes per game. Reed Lucas has the top mark with 2.7 a contest, Billy Bales and Darrion Evans each make 2.2, while Jarvis Calhoun drills 2.1.
"They are frightening," Benson said. "A three-point basket can have such a huge impact on a game from a momentum standpoint. When you make 12 a game, that's scary. We've made adjustments within our defense to defend the three-point line better. It has us on alert. We'll go in trying to defend the three while also working to contain."
The Bears have also done a fantastic job taking care of the basketball. L-R leads the league with only 239 turnovers. The Bears have only turned it over more than 15 times twice, their last game against Coker and a season-opening loss to UNC Pembroke. They've had nine games this season with single-digit turnovers.
Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) is averaging 22 points per game over his last three contests with the Bears. He is shooting 57 percent from the field and 64 percent from three over that time.
Clark continues to lead the Eagles in scoring. The All-America candidate is the second-leading scorer in the South Atlantic Conference this season.
Both Clark and Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.) continue to move up the Eagles' all-time scoring list. Clark sits at 1,411 points while Williams sits three away from 1,400. Clark is in 15th place on the all-time list and needs 27 points to catch Jay Cuny. Williams is deadlocked for 16th with George Cox (1995-99).
Tipoff Saturday is set for 4 p.m. The 2001-02 team will be introduced at the conclusion of the women's game before the men's team begins its warmup. Pregame 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.