VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman will trek six hours due east to Wilson, N.C. to open up its 2014-15 season at the 45-Second Classic. The Eagles take on host Barton Friday night at 7 p.m. before challenging Mount Olive Saturday at 2 p.m.
"We knew when we set this schedule that this opening weekend would be really tough," head coach Chuck Benson said. "We came away with a signature win over Barton last year to start the season and now we have to go over there. Mount Olive has everybody back and is just loaded. I really think they're an NCAA tournament team. Our guys will have to be focused on controlling those things that they can control."
The Eagles are trying to win their season opener for a third consecutive year. The Eagles beat Barton last year 97-69 in the only meeting in the programs' history. Carson-Newman and Mount Olive have never played in men's basketball.
Carson-Newman will feature a fresh lineup for the start of the season. With the departure of All-Americans Antoine Davis (1,526 career points) and Ish Sanders (1,922 career points) to graduation and an injury to senior guard and third leading scorer Jared Johnson (Springfield, Mass.), Carson-Newman will start three freshmen in its backcourt.
The Eagles will rely on Ryan Jones (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) as they're point guard. Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) will start at shooting guard and Mason Bates (Cookeville, Tenn.) will play the three.
"I want to see how our guys react," Benson said. "We've had good experiences in preseason scrimmages, but those still aren't games. I think we may be on a suicide mission because we're going to start three freshmen at our one, two and three. I don't know if there's anyone else in America doing that. It'll be a tough thing but I can't wait to see how they respond."
Barton is largely in the same boat as the Eagles. The Bulldogs lose leading scorer and honorable mention All-America Chris Flemmings from last year's 17-11 squad. Flemmings averaged 19.6 points per game and shot 41 percent from three-point range.
"They lose Flemmings, we won't have Jared," Benson said. "I think Jared brings more to the table and thus we lose more. It'd be really nice to have him because this is such a big road trip. But this will also give some guys a true look at their first collegiate experience."
Meanwhile, Mount Olive is stacked. The Trojans return their top four scorers from a year ago. Dontrell Brite, Jordan McCain, Dominique Reed and Kendall Hargrove all are back after averaging 16.3, 11.3, 10.2 and 9.4 points per game respectively.
"Brite is very fast and quick," Benson said. "He's undersized, but he's also very versatile. But to think they are a one-player team is a complete misnomer. They will definitely be the first veteran team that we will face this year."
Mount Olive went 19-9 last season and narrowly missed the NCAA tournament. The Trojans and Bulldogs both finished with 12-4 records in Conference Carolinas.
Both games will be available on the Eagle Sports Network this weekend online at cneagles.com/live. Mattias Osblarto will be on mic five minutes prior to tipoff with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff.