VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
VIDEO: Charles Clark Interview
VIDEO: Malik Abraham Interview
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carson-Newman (12-2) overcame the second least efficient shooting half of basketball in the Chuck Benson era and used a solid second half performance to halt a six-game skid at the hands of the Johnson C. Smith Golden Bulls (8-5) with an 83-79 win Tuesday evening at Brayboy Gym.
Carson-Newman was a paltry 8-for-32 from the field in the first half. The 25 percent effort from the field is only better than a 3-for-20 effort from the field in the first half of a game against Georgia College in 2010.
"Johnson C. Smith is an excellent defensive you team," head coach Chuck Benson said. "You couple that with it being our first game back from the break and working through rust, everything was stacked up against us to come in here and get beat. In spite of that, our kids did enough to get the win."
However, Carson-Newman responded in the second half by making 13 of its first 18 shots, turning a four-point deficit into a 13-point lead thanks to a 14-3 run.
The win is the first for the Eagles against Johnson C. Smith under head coach Chuck Benson and the first in the series since 2003. Carson-Newman had lost the previous three meetings between the two schools under Benson, including a 79-51 setback the last time the team went to Brayboy Gym on Dec. 17, 2014.
"This is one of the most satisfying wins we've had all year," Benson said. "I know how difficult it is to win here, and you consider what went down four years ago in this building four years ago. This was a redemptive day today."
Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), who had also never beaten JCSU in his career, paved the way with his 11th career 30-point game. Clark had 31 points on 7-of-15 shooting. He went 3-for-8 from long range and did a significant amount of damage from the charity stripe. Clark was 14-for-17 from the line, one off his career high for both free throws made and attempted.
The outburst gives him 1,989 career points and moves him past Lenoir-Rhyne's Daniel Willis and into fourth place on the South Atlantic Conference's all-time scoring list.
"I kept reminding him that he was 0-3 against these guys and this was his last chance to get a win against them," Benson said. "He certainly did the job here today. He did it too as a game-time decision. He'd been held out of practice the last two days. He and Malik provided a nice one-two scoring punch for us."
In a rarity this season, Carson-Newman only had two players finish in double-figures, the only time this year it's occurred.
Malik Abraham (Snellville, Ga.) provided the rest of the scoring lift for the Eagles. He finished with 18 points, 15 of them coming in the second half. Abraham was 5-for-7 from long range.
Reece Anderson (Douglasville, Ga.) didn't get to double figures, but he reset his career high with nine points. Josh Murray (Burlington, N.C.) came within a point and rebound of a double-double with nine points and nine boards.
In spite of its worst shooting half of basketball of the season, the Eagles and Golden Bulls were tied at halftime 33-33. That was in large part due to the Eagles ability to get to the line. C-N knocked down 14-of-18 free throws in the first and made a season-high 26 for the game on 35 attempts.
After slogging through the offensive doldrums in the first half, the Eagles exploded out of the gates in the second stanza.
The teams played even through the first four minutes and were tied at 40 following a Roddric Ross three for the Golden Bulls.
The Eagles then cranked off a 14-3 run to create separation. Anderson exploded to the rim for a pair of fast break buckets sandwiched around a corner three from Abraham to give C-N its biggest lead of the game 54-43 with 13:47 to play.
Carson-Newman got the lead out to 13, 75-62 with 5:27 left, after a two-hand slam by Murray and a bounce feed from Abraham.
However, JCSU would not go quietly into the night. Carson-Newman wouldn't hit a field goal the rest of the way as the Golden Bulls used a 10-2 run to trim the deficit down to two possessions with three minutes left.
While the Eagles didn't hit any shots, they went 8-for-10 from the line in the final five minutes to ice the game.
Carson-Newman's 38 percent shooting effort is its worst of the season and lowest mark in a win since shooting 39.6 percent from the field in a 63-48 South Atlantic Conference Title Game win over Lincoln Memorial on March 8, 2015. It snapped an eight-game losing streak for the Eagles when they shot 40 percent or worse from the floor.
At the same time, the Eagles limited the Golden Bulls to 34.7 percent shooting (26-for-75) for their second best defensive efficiency effort of the year.
The win rounds out non-conference play with the Eagles a flawless 8-0. It's the first time in the Division II era that C-N didn't suffer a loss outside of league action.
Carson-Newman hops back into South Atlantic Conference play Saturday against Catawba. Tipoff against the Indians is set for 4 p.m. from Holt Fieldhouse. The AEC Countdown to Tipoff sends the Eagle Sports Network to air at 3:45 on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.