JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman guard Ishmael Sanders (Cleveland, Tenn.) had a season-high 29 points as the Eagles beat No. 12 Lincoln Memorial, 77-69, on Wednesday night in a boisterous Holt Fieldhouse.
Carson-Newman moves to 15-12 on the season and 8-9 in South Atlantic Conference play. LMU falls to 23-4 and 13-4 in league play. With the win, the Eagles sweep the season series with LMU, which in the top-ranked team in Wednesday's D-II Southeast Regional Poll.
Sanders hit a three-pointer with 1:33 left in the basketball game and calmly made all four of his free throw attempts in the final minute to fight off the Railsplitters' rally.
The sophomore fought off LMU's Wally Jones to hit a 15-foot step-back jumper from the free throw line to give the Eagles a five-point lead. Jones returned the favor, going coast-to-coast to cut the lead back to three at 65-62 with 2:33 left.
After two teams traded possessions, Sanders found himself trapped in between two Railsplitters, only to have his pass out of the trap deflected off teammate Antoine Davis and back to an open Sanders, who buried the open three to give C-N a 73-67 lead.
The bounce was one many breaks C-N created for itself, playing with intensity in its home finale against its east Tennessee rival.
"We are an immature team and we seem to play at the level of the competition., Eagle head coach Chuck Benson said after the game. "We're a team that's swept LMU, but we're also a team that got beat by Mars Hill last week. I think this experience will help us and we can build on it when we go to Anderson this Saturday."
"This is a rivalry game and we were able to finish and get the sweep." Benson added. "We had a key word that we've been talking about the last 24 hours and that's 'enthusiasm.' Any great endeavor and any great challenge has been conquered with enthusiasm. Our guys had that, but they also had poise. They made plays on both ends of the floor."
Davis overcame foul trouble throughout the night to score back-to-back buckets down the stretch as the Eagles lead approached double figures for much of the second half. He knocked down a three-pointer over LMU's Cam Carden to answer a 6-0 run with 6:40 left to play. The jumper moved the Eagles lead back out to seven after Carden had hit back-to-back triples.
After LMU opened the second half on a 6-0 run to erase the Eagles' 28-25 halftime lead, C-N responded out of a quick timeout with a 10-2 run that gave the Eagles a 38-33 edge, and the lead for good. A three-pointer by Marcellous Perez (Jacksonvile, N.C.) from deep in the corner and a layup from freshman Corbin Jackson (Rockledge, Fla.) helped key the run, but it was Sanders ability to score off the dribble that handcuffed LMU.
Sanders was only 2-of-8 from three-point range, but made 8-of-11 from inside the arc as he attacked the rim throughout the game.
On a night where Davis and Perez struggled to scores and played reduced minutes because of foul trouble, C-N's bench stepped up.
Sophomore Kevin Leatherwood (Charlottesville, Va.) hit a three-pointer in each half and was 2-of-4 from the floor. Junior Joe Meady (Knoxville, Tenn.) came off the bench in his first minutes in over a month to score seven points and grab two rebounds. He finished 3-of-6 from the floor and gave the Eagles a much-needed boost at the rim.
Freshman Jared Johnson (Springfield, Mass.), who has fared well in physical, rugged games during his freshman season, did so again on Wednesday. He was 5-of-8 in 20 minutes off the bench and had four assists. He also made his first three-pointer of the season.
While role players lifted the Eagles, Jackson was almost perfect. The freshman was 6-of-7 from the floor and made a number of shots from tough angles around the basket. He had a team-high seven boards and two blocked shots to go with 13 points. His tomahawk dunk in the final seconds set off the rowdy Holt Fieldhouse crowd as time expired.
LMU's seniors carried, and almost willed the Railsplitters back in the final minutes. Desmond Johnson, Brandon Armstrong, and Wally Jones combined for 29 second half points as LMU repeatedly cut into the Eagles' second half leads. Johnson made three mid-range jumpers and Armstrong and Jones each had three as LMU cut the Eagles' 53-42 lead down to two in the final two minutes.
Armstrong led LMU with 16 points, while Johnson added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Jones had 13 and Carden added 12.
C-N led 28-25 at the half. Neither team shot above 40 percent during a rugged first 20 minutes.
Carson-Newman shot 91 percent at the line, 10-of-11. LMU shot 69 percent, but was 18-of-26.
The Eagles were 19-of-32 (59 percent) from the floor in the second half, and made 5-of-8 three-point field goals.
Carson-Newman wraps up its regular season on Saturday at Anderson (S.C.). Tipoff is at 4 p.m.