Carson-Newman returns from holiday break with SAC matchup against Brevard on Wednesday

Carson-Newman returns from holiday break with SAC matchup against Brevard on Wednesday
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – After an 8-4 record in the 2011 portion of their basketball schedule, the Carson-Newman Eagles are clearly making strides under head coach Chuck Benson midway through his second campaign at Mossy Creek.

After a 10-day break for the holidays, the Eagles returned to practice last week for the grueling South Atlantic Conference home stretch, which begins this week. Carson-Newman hosts Brevard College on Wednesday afternoon in Holt Fieldhouse. The women tip off at 4 p.m. with the men to follow at 6 p.m.

The watchword for Benson since day one has been a commitment to the "process" and the Eagles are continuing to do just that.

"We talked with our guys when they got back and formulated goals," Benson said. "Our number one goal is to continue to improve in January and February and into the postseason."

The Eagles picked up a quality win over traditional SAC contender Catawba, 74-66, in late November, its first win over the Indians in three seasons. It also pushed Wingate for 40 minutes on the road in a conference loss, its only loss since November.

To keep the momentum going to start a stretch of 16 SAC games to close the regular season, C-N will have to take care of business at home to open January, beginning with Brevard on Wednesday.

"We've told our guys before, you want to take care of your games at home," Benson said. "We're going to try to maximize those two games and get off to a fast start."

The Tornados come in at 1-9 on the year and have struggled against a tough schedule, but have improved recently. They picked up their first win of the season against Lees-McRae in late November, 71-66, and pushed Anderson, an Elite Eight team a year ago, to overtime in their SAC opener.  

Lenoir-Rhyne, who the Eagles host on Saturday, is also improved, almost overnight. The Bears are only 4-4 on the year, but are 2-0 since the return of All-SAC performer D.J. Blackmon, who missed a just over a year with a knee injury.

After an inconsistent season offensively a year ago, C-N has been anything but this year, continuing to develop two explosive and reliable scorers, while a third has overcome an early-season injury to become one of the league's top freshmen.

Guard Ishmael Sanders and forward Antoine Davis, both sophomores, are two of the league's top four scorers. Sanders is averaging 19.2 points per game, while Davis is scoring at an 18.9 clip. Both are big reasons the Eagles are averaging just 81 points per game, third in the league.

Emerging alongside Davis and Sanders has been freshman Kennedy Eubanks.

Eubanks missed two weeks at the beginning of the season with an ankle injury, but became another versatile scoring threat for the Eagles with a big December. The 6-foot-7 swingman averaged 14.1 points in his final games before the break, including a 21-point, 14-rebound performance in the Eagles' 99-80 win over Bluefield College on Dec. 17. Both are career highs.

"Ish (Sanders) and Antoine (Davis) have proven themselves as scorers and Kennedy is getting better each time we take the floor," Benson said. "To know we've got young players that are going to be here for years to come has me excited about the rest of the season and the future of our program."