JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Ish Sanders (Cleveland, Tenn.) buried a three from the left wing over Lenoir-Rhyne's R.J. McClure with 1.9 seconds left as Carson-Newman (16-4, 9-3 SAC) picked up a 61-58 home conference win over the Bears (14-6, 7-5 SAC) to stay within a game of first in the league standings.
The Eagles have won five straight games.
"I never doubted that we could get this thing done," Carson-Newman head men's basketball coach Chuck Benson said. "I thought our defense was good enough and that we would make some shots late. You saw, you put the ball in the hands of the man that can, and he did."
Carson-Newman saw a seven-point lead turn into a one-point deficit following an L-R 8-0 run that ended with a Jarvis Perry layup with 5:47 left in the game. Neither team would lead by more than two over the final five minutes.
With 1:24 left, SAC Player of the Year candidate Denzel Dillingham picked off a pass at center court and raced to the rack for a layup on the right side to tie the game at 58. After a wild Bears possession where Matt Kunz tried to tip a pass into the paint for a Bear post player but had it intercepted by Cody Henegar (South Pittsburg, Tenn.), the stage was set for Sanders' late game heroics.
Benson said the three wasn't the primary option, but he's glad Sanders had the wherewithal to take what was given to him.
"We were going to play the drive, but Ish got himself some separation," Benson said. "We overloaded the weak side and thought we could get to the line. But he got some separation on McClure, and Ish is pretty good shooting that thing off the dribble. I gave him a big kiss, first time I've had to kiss a player here at Carson-Newman because he made me like him."
Sanders led C-N with 19 points to go along with four rebounds. Antoine Davis (Rustburg, Va.) popped in 16 on 5-for-13 shooting plus five boards. Davis went 4-of-5 at the line, his second best night at the charity stripe this season.
Defensively, the Eagles limited a third straight opponent to less than 60 points; Carson-Newman is 9-0 this year when holding an opponent under 60.
The Eagles are giving up 57.4 points per game on their five-game win streak.
"What we do (defensively) is very difficult; it's not a black and white scheme," Benson said. "Our kids are getting a better understanding of what we're doing. I'm pleased with what we're doing defensively."
The Eagles held L-R to 39.6 percent shooting from the field, only LMU, Anderson and Milligan have shot better than 45 percent for a game on the Eagles.
Carson-Newman held Dillingham nine points below his conference average. He typically scores 20 in SAC games – the league leader in conference play – but Saturday he was limited to 11 points because of foul trouble.
McClure tried to pick up the slack where Dillingham left off, scoring 22 on 6-for-10 shooting. However, McClure's efforts weren't enough
"It's a testament that our guys have confidence and have a belief in one another," Benson said. "They're playing hungry and want to do something positive."
The Eagles complete a three-game home stand Wednesday against Mars Hill. Tip time is 8 p.m.; pregame coverage begins at 7:45 p.m. on the Coca-Cola Eagle Sports Network with the Farm Bureau Countdown to Tipoff on ESPN Radio 106.3 The Zone and online at cneagles.com.