VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
VIDEO: Mason Bates Interview
VIDEO: Blake Ervin Interview
VIDEO: Chris Clayton Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Bolstered by clutch free throws from senior Mason Bates (Cookeville, Tenn.) in the final four minutes, Carson-Newman (11-9, 4-8 South Atlantic Conference) snapped a five-game losing streak to Lincoln Memorial (14-5, 9-3 SAC) with a riveting 79-75 win over their rivals to the north Wednesday night in Holt Fieldhouse.
Carson-Newman went the final five minutes of the game without a field goal and finished 0-for-5 down the stretch. However Bates converted on 10-of-10 trips to the line in the final four minutes, and 8-of-8 in the last 64 seconds to pave the way for Carson-Newman's first win over the Railsplitters since a 111-109 OT thriller on Nov. 22, 2016.
"Free throws are something that we work on a lot as a team," Bates said. "I've tried since last year to be that guy who, if we need it, can be the guy to step up and make those late to win a game. The free throws are all well and good, but at the end of the day, I want to give credit to our guys for playing a 40-minute game. It couldn't have come at a better time against a better team."
LMU looked poised on multiple occasions to put the game away, but C-N answered at every turn. The Railsplitters led for 34:48 before Carson-Newman grabbed the lead for good with 64 seconds left on two Bates freebies.
The Railsplitters led by seven on four occasions in the second half, the last at 61-54 with 7:47 to play on a Cornelius Taylor jumper. That was when Carson-Newman made its most pivotal surge. Bates, Nick Rogers (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Chris Clayton (Marion, N.C.) all drilled threes in a 1:30 span to turn that seven-point deficit into a 63-63 tie and a 9-2 run.
WHAT THE WHAT. C-N goes on a 7-0 spurt with this JAM by @_malikabraham to bring them within ✌�� ����@LMUMBB 28@CN_Hoops 26— Carson-Newman Athletics (@CNathletics) January 31, 2019
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Blake Ervin (Maryville, Tenn.) and Rogers drilled back-to-back threes two minutes later to give the Eagles' an overall 15-4 surge that produced a 69-65 lead with 4:59 to play. Carson-Newman went 5-for-6 from long distance in that span to flip the game on its head. It also gave Carson-Newman the lead with less than five minutes left. C-N is now 107-3 over the last seven years with a lead with less than five minutes to play.
"There was a stretch in the final six minutes when we grabbed a small lead after Nick Rogers drilled a couple threes really quick," head men's basketball coach Benson said. "That put the pressure back on LMU defensively. We kept being aggressive and Mason got to the line by being north-south attack oriented."
While the Eagles went 0-for-5 from the field down the stretch, LMU couldn't buy a bucket either. The Railsplitters went 1-for-8 from the field in the stretch run.
"We've put extra time in the practice environment on our defense," Benson said. "Because this team has struggled to score at times this year, we knew our defense was something we could lock in on and control. As much as you'd like to think you can control your offense, sometimes, shots just don't fall. I thought today, I really thought we put together a complete 40 minutes. On a scale of 1-to-10, this was a nine tonight."
The Railsplitters grabbed their final lead with 3:38 to play on a pair of Alex Dahling free throws. The teams stayed at a 72-71 score in favor of the 'Splitters for the next 2:24 of game action. C-N and LMU combined for eight missed shots and two turnovers in that span before Bates' clutch gene took over.
Uhm excuse me NOT TODAY. @chrisclayton973 with a sick denial under the basket ����@LMUMBB 72@CN_Hoops 71— Carson-Newman Athletics (@CNathletics) January 31, 2019
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Bates was fouled on a drive with 64 seconds to play. He knocked down both freebies to give C-N a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
"This was, by far, the most complete game we've played this year," Benson said. "We needed it at this time. I can't say enough about both teams, and the competitiveness that they displayed. Both teams laid it on the line tonight and I think it was an enjoyable product to watch."
Clayton keyed Carson-Newman defensively down the stretch. He had two blocks in the final two minutes, and one on a Kamaran Calhoun layup attempt following Bates' free throws that would have put LMU back in front. Instead, the Eagles got the ball back, Bates got fouled again and put C-N up by three.
"Tonight was about our guys poise and mentality," Benson said. "This has been a learning season for us. Tonight, some guys had massive segments of time where they were big. Chris Clayton played his most complete game. Brendan Coleman gave us quality minutes. Blake Ervin stepped up and was more aggressive and reliable. Nick came in and knocked down key shots under duress. Our guy's mindset, resiliency and poise was on display today."
Bates paced the Eagles with 22 points, his fifth career 20+-point scoring effort. Bates had 19 of those after halftime.
Clayton matched his career high with 13 points, but how he got there was atypical. Clayton came into the game 2-for-6 from long range on the season. He knocked down a career-high 3-of-6 threes.
Those were the only two Eagles in double figures. However, Parker Role' (Atlanta, Ga.), Ervin, Grant Teichmann (Brentwood, Tenn.), Rogers and Malik Abraham (Snellville, Ga.) all had at least seven points.
While Bates, free throws in the final five minutes sealed the deal, Carson-Newman's three-point shooting kept them within striking distance. The Eagles made 14 threes on 31 attempts, the second most C-N has made in a game all year. C-N was especially prolific in the second half. C-N knocked down 9-of-19 after halftime.
The Eagles struggled inside the three-point stripe against LMU's pressure man. C-N made 40.3 percent of its shots on the day. That figure plummets to 35.4 percent (11-for-31) when you take out the Eagles' triples.
However, Carson-Newman used 40 minutes of man-to-man defense to confound LMU. The Railsplitters were held to 38.8 percent shooting. That's LMU's worst shooting effort since a 90-62 loss to Queens on Dec. 8 and its third worst of the year.
The Eagles' overcame an early 10-point deficit after the Railsplitters bounced out to an early 13-3 lead in the first five minutes of the game. It marks the first double-digit lead that Carson-Newman has overcome this year.
Cornelius Taylor paced the Railsplitters with an inefficient 18. He was 7-for-22 from the field and 3-for-12 from long range. Dahling added in 14 and Rhondi Hackett finished with 12.
Carson-Newman will look for back-to-back wins for the first time since early December with a tough road trip to Lenoir-Rhyne Saturday. Tipoff with the Bears is set for 4 p.m. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 3:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on The Mountain 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.