VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
VIDEO: Charles Clark Interview
VIDEO: Sawyer Williams Interview
GREENEVILLE, Tenn. – Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) hit an off-hand layup from the right side of the lane after a coast-to-coast drive to propel Carson-Newman (16-9, 13-6 South Atlantic Conference) to a come-from-behind 75-74 win over Tusculum (11-14, 8-11 SAC).Wednesday night at Pioneer Arena.
The win gives Carson-Newman the sweep of the season series for the first time since 2012-13. Clark carried the Eagles with a season-high 30 points, the seventh such scoring effort of his career.
"What an incredible finish," head coach Chuck Benson said. "I was so disappointed with our team's execution for 39 minutes and 53 seconds. We tried to do things to get clean looks and couldn't do it.. We didn't call the time out after the free throw just screaming for them to get the ball to Charles and get out of the way. We did that because we know what Charles does. He's a bad, bad dude. If that wasn't a performance befitting and All-American, I don't know what is. I wouldn't trade him for anyone else in the country."
Carson-Newman trailed by 10 with 14:41 to play in the second half following a 7-0 Pioneer run. The Eagles slowly but surely whittled away at the lead, but still trailed by five with 1:45 to play after Kendall Patterson hit a one-footed three from the top of the key.
Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.) fired back with a tip drill dunk after a missed layup by Clark. That cut the score down to 71-68. Patterson missed a three on the other end. Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.) grabbed the rebound and pushed the ball up to Cameron Holmes (Fort Mill, S.C.). The freshman buried a transition three to tie the game at 71 with 56 seconds left from the left corner.
Tusculum came back down to the other end to set up Corey Fagan from a three from the left corner, which he drained with 30 seconds left.
The Eagles attempted a three on the ensuring possession. Malik Abraham (Snellville, Ga.) flashed around a screen to the top of the key and popped for a triple with nine seconds left. The sophomore missed, but was fouled by the Pioneers Chase Mounce.
"Charles point blank said to the guys that we had to do some stuff late," Benson said. "We wanted Sawyer and Charles to carry this thing, low and behold, that's what happened."
Abraham knocked down the first two foul shots but missed the third. The Pioneers Kendall Patterson snatched up the rebound and was promptly fouled by Williams.
With a one-and-one situation, Patterson missed the free throw with 7.4 seconds left. Williams ensnared the rebound for C-N and handed the ball off to Clark. The southpaw drove the length of the floor, used a Euro step in the middle of the lane and laid the ball in with his off hand off the right side of the glass with 1.4 seconds left to the Eagles their only lead of the second half.
A three-quarter court heave from Patterson glanced off the right side of the backboard and cemented the win and the sweep of the season series for the Eagles.
"This is a tough game," Benson said. "Tusculum was really sound defensively and that gave us troubles. We weren't able to force our offensive will on them, and our execution was suspect. We have to show some toughness against tough teams than we showed tonight."
The Eagles started the game hot, knocking down nine of their first 13 shots en route to an early eight-point first half lead. However, Carson-Newman's fell flat after that early flourish. The Eagles would only hit nine of their next 33 shot attempts spanning the halftime break as they fell behind by 10.
Carson-Newman finished the game shooting 43.3 percent from the field. The win is just the second in the last 14 for C-N in games in which it has shot worse than 45 percent.
"I told our team afterwards that I was disappointed with the performance on so many levels," Benson said. "But I was also very impressed with the resiliency they showed. Our zone slowed down their production and allowed us to get in transition. Cam Holmes hit two big shots late in that game that were unbelievably needed. For that I'm pleased. This wasn't even close to a quality performance. Yet we still got a win."
Clark and Williams carried the Eagles, combining for 55 points. Clark finished with 30, his seventh such game, besting Ish Sanders total number of career 30-point efforts. Williams added a double-double with 25 points and 12 rebounds. If not for Shaun Jones' 11 double-doubles this season, Williams would be tied for the single-season record for most double-doubles in a year with his sixth.
Williams and Clark combined to go 23-of-39 from the floor, the rest of the team was 6-for-28.
Tusculum was led by Kendall Patterson and his 20 points and seven assists. Fagan added 18 on 4-of-7 shooting from three. Ronnie Baylark and Zach Davis each had 10.
The Pioneers started the second half making six of their first 10 shots. The Eagles switch from a man to a zone and TC went 5-for-17 from the floor the rest of the way.
Carson-Newman's transition game proved deadly in the comeback. The Eagles scored 15 points on the fast break. Tusculum didn't have a point in transition.
The Eagles' comeback from a 10-point deficit marks the third time they've rallied from double digits this season, and the second time they've come back from down 10 or more in the second half. The Eagles trailed by 12 in the second half against UVA-Wise before winning in overtime 96-91. They fell behind by 12 as well against Mars Hill early in the first half before taking a 15-point lead in the second half of that game.
The Eagles return to action Saturday in a pivotal Southeast Region showdown with Wingate. The Eagles were ranked 10th in the NCAA's first region rankings. The Bulldogs checked in at seventh. The teams tip at 4 p.m. from Cuddy Arena. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 3:45 p.m. with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3. (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.