KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – With a lineup laden with underclassmen, the Carson-Newman Eagles led for much of the first half and fought for all 40 minutes before falling to its Southeastern Conference neighbor Tennessee, 73-52, on Thursday night in exhibition action.
C-N led 30-28 with just over three minutes to play in the first half before Tennessee went on an 11-0 run to seize a 39-30 lead at the break. Despite being a loss on the scoreboard, the Eagles looked nothing like a team that was 11-16 a season ago.
"I was pleased with just about everything," Carson-Newman head coach Chuck Benson said after the game. "Our best lineup tonight was three sophomores and two freshmen. Our guys fought all night against an SEC team, and hung in throughout."
Newcomer Antoine Davis, a sophomore wing, led the Eagles with 13 points in his debut. Freshman Corbin Jackson also turned heads. He had seven points and nine rebounds in his first game action as an Eagle, two weeks after suffering a hand injury brought up doubts that he might not play this season.
"Our guys didn't back down," Benson said. "We made the game a dogfight. We missed some open shots and didn't shoot free throws well, but I thought we made things tough on Tennessee all night."
Jackson had a steal and drove for a dunk in the second half, but the ball slipped out of his heavily wrapped hand as the Eagles tried to cut into the Tennessee lead.
C-N stayed within striking distance for the opening 11 minutes of the second half, cutting the Tennessee lead to 11 at 56-45 on a three by freshman Jared Johnson with just over nine minutes to play. Johnson had seven points in his Eagle debut.
The Eagles managed only four second half field goals as leading scorer Ishmael Sanders and company struggled with thee Vols' length and athleticism. The offensive struggles didn't affect the Eagles defensive effort. C-N forced 22 turnovers and held Tennessee to 36.2 percent shooting in the game.
Tennessee's length and athleticism would wear the Eagles down late as the Vols started to capitalize on their 33 free throw attempts.
The slow start by Tennessee frustrated a Thompson-Boling Arena crowd announced at over 15,000 that came out to see the first exhibition of the Cuonzo Martin era.
Martin had to wait more than 3½ minutes on the Thompson-Boling Arena clock to see his team's first basket. Cameron Tatum finally broke the ice with a 3-pointer at 16:32 that ended an early 6-0 run by Carson-Newman.
The Eagles kept applying the pressure and still led 16-10 with 11 minutes to go in the first half when McRae took over. The sophomore scored 12 straight Tennessee points on a field goal, a 3-pointer, two free throws and another trey before his driving dunk at 8:07 lifted Tennessee to its first lead at 22-20.
McRae led all scorers with 17 points. Golden added 14.
Tennessee's Jeronne Maymon controlled the paint. He had 10 points and 15 rebounds, including seven offensive boards.
The Eagles played without sophomore guard Kevin Leatherwood, who start 21 games last season. He is nursing a foot injury.
The Eagles newcomers combined for 32 points and 17 rebounds in the loss.
C-N returns to exhibition action on Saturday against East Tennessee State at 4 p.m. in Johnson City.