GREENWOOD, S.C. – Opening the year with five of its first six games on the road, Carson-Newman starts the year in South Carolina with a Friday night affair against USC Aiken at 7:30 before a 2019 NCAA Tournament rematch against No. 21 Lander on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Carson-Newman is looking to open the year with a win for the seventh season in a row having not dropped the lid-lifter since a 59-56 loss to Coker on Nov. 9, 2012. Overall, the program is 29-11 in season starters.
"It feels like it's been an eternity since we played Tennessee," Carson-Newman coach Mike Mincey said. "I think we are getting to the point now where we are ready to play somebody else. Our practices have been extremely physical. We have some new bodies this year that there have been a lot of bodies hitting the floor. I think they are tired of going against each other and are ready to go against someone else."
Continuing the early season tradition that began in 2014-15, the first two opponents of the year will be USC Aiken and Lander as the Lady Eagles travel to Greenwood, S.C. for this year's iteration of the SAC/Peach Belt Challenge. C-N is 9-1 in the first 10 games with the lone loss coming on Nov. 12, 2016 to 21st-ranked Lander in Harrogate, Tenn.
Friday evening's affair is the 12th all-time meeting with the Pacers in a series that dates back to 2003. C-N has won each of the last five. The last time the Pacers won a game against the Lady Eagles came in the 2010-11 season opener on Nov. 13, a 62-36 victory, in Greenwood, S.C.
Last season, the duo of Haris Price and Mika Wester combined to score 45 points on 19-for-26 shooting in a 94-68 victory inside of Holt Fieldhouse. Twelve Lady Eagles registered at least one point as the team turned 24 giveaways into 30 points scoring 17 on the fast break.
Aiken finished the 2018-19 campaign fifth in the Peach Belt standings losing 59-44 to Clayton State in the conference tournament quarterfinals. The team was 10-3 at home but faltered away from the friendly confines posting a 6-10 mark in road and neutral contests.
A year ago, Aiken was one of the nation's elite rebounding teams ranking fifth in rebound margin at plus-9.8 and 12th in rebounds per game with 44. The unit had no fewer than 31 boards in any outing with at least 35 in all but two contests.
Coach Mark Miller returns first-team All-PBC selection Kwajelin Farrar who posted 12 double-doubles and averaged 16 points and 10 boards as a sophomore. She posted the 11th-best field-goal efficiency in the country converting 59 percent of her attempts. Last season, Farrar registered nine points on 4-for-5 shooting in 14 minutes against C-N.
"That's their best player coming back," Mincey said. "She is one of the best players in the Peach Belt. She is very athletic. There is a lot of things that she can do. We have to make sure that we don't make our post players go one-on-one against her."
In a rematch of the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, C-N and Lander have played twice in each of the last two years with the Lady Eagles holding an 8-7 lead in the all-time series. The Bearcats have won two of the three affairs played in Greenwood but C-N won the most recent contest, 73-62 on Nov. 14, 2015.
"It's about taking care of the ball," Mincey said. "The games that we have lost to Lander in the last six matchups with them we have turned the ball over more than we have assisted. The worst defeat we had to them, we turned the ball over 28 times. If you are going to beat Lander then you have to take care of it. If you turn the ball over then they are going to feast off of you."
Mincey's crew had won three straight clashes and six of the last seven prior to an 82-79 setback at Anderson in the first round of the tournament to the eventual region runner-up. Despite the tight final tally, the Lady Eagles trailed for 38:06 of the contest by as many as 12 never leading in the game.
Coach Kevin Pederson's team is the second-highest ranked team nationally in the region behind No. 13 Anderson. Despite the regular season not starting, the Bearcats are already off to a great start having taken down Clemson 74-72 in exhibition play on Oct. 29. Lander forced 41 turnovers converting 28 off of those. Miriam Recarte produced the game winner on a buzzer beater from the left wing.
Over the past five seasons, Pederson's crew is 66-8 at home having not lost more than two home contests in the same campaign during that stretch. With a 10-game winning streak, it's the 17th-longest winning streak in the country having not lost since Dec. 4, 2018, 63-57 to Georgia College.
Jessica Harris, the reigning Peach Belt Player of the Year, scored 30 points on 10-for-16 shooting with six steals in the victory over the Tigers. She ranked in the top 20 of the country in six categories last season. Harris had 33 points against the Lady Eagles last season but went 8-for-28 from the field.
Both contests can be heard on cneagles.com/live starting 15 minutes prior to the opening tap with "The AEC Countdown to Tip-Off" on the Eagle Sports Network. Saturday's tilt will air on locally on radio on 106.3 (WPFT-FM).
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