VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
VIDEO: Ryan Jones Interview
VIDEO: Charles Clark Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (2-4) pounded USC Aiken (3-4) 87-65 Saturday afternoon at Holt Fieldhouse behind suffocating zone defense that held the Pacers 20 points below their season average.
The Eagles held USC Aiken, a Final Four team from a year ago, to just 28.6 percent shooting. The Pacers came into the game averaging 44 percent from the field and 35 percent from three. The Eagles kept USCA to 6-for-33 from behind the arc.
"After the loss to Mars Hill, we had a really serious three days going back and making sure that old and new players alike knew what we were about," head coach Chuck Benson said. "The preparation the last three days was marvelous. They responded and you could see in the game tonight that we had a great carryover in that defensively."
Aiken led for most of the first half, however, the Eagles closed the frame on a 24-7 run while holding Aiken to just two field goals the final 10 minutes of the frame to take a 38-26 lead into the locker room. The Eagles outscored the Pacers 13-2 over the final 3:30 of the half that was capped off by a last-second layup by Ryan Jones (Murfreesboro, Tenn.).
Carson-Newman kept the hammer down in the second half. Carson-Newman used a 12-0 run to send the lead out to 29 with 7:08 to play on a Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) left-corner, transition triple.
C-N had five players finish in double figures, led by Clark's career high 17. The freshman hit 5-of-8 field goals and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe.
Jared Johnson (Springfield, Mass.) and Andy Barnett (Pigeon Forge, Tenn.) each added 14 points. Barnett reset his career high with his 14. He was also a career best 4-of-7 from beyond the three-point arc.
Jones had nine points and only one turnover in 32 minutes.
"This was Ryan Jones' high water mark in his young college career," Benson said. "The same goes for Charles Clark. He's a talented player and the way he goes about learning this thing, I've been really pleased with that. This allows them to grow in terms of their confidence and their knowledge of the college game.
The contest marked the first for Carson-Newman where five players finished in double figures since a win over Tusculum at Holt Fieldhouse in November of 2013.
Carson-Newman limited a team to worse than 30 percent shooting from the field for the first time since a 91-51 win over Mars Hill from January of last season. The Lions were 21-of-71 from the field that day, the Pacers were made 20-of-70 shots Saturday.
A turnover prone Carson-Newman club only coughed it up 14 times and didn't allow USC Aiken to score a point off a turnover until there were four minutes left in the game. The Eagles outscored the Pacers 24-8 in points off turnovers.
"We've seen this happen before where teams aren't making shots and they start penetrating," Benson said. "We didn't do as good a job containing them to keep them off the line, but the truth of the matter is, I was very concerned about Aiken and one of the most dominant teams in this region. For our guys to play the way they did tonight is just a quantum leap from where we were."
The Pacers were led by Dominic Early's 18 points and seven rebounds. The Eagles limited Pacer leading scorer Andre Anthony to 11 points – he entered the game averaging 19.8. Carson-Newman also held Furman transfer Keith Belfield to nine points, he came in averaging 16.7.
Carson-Newman hits the road for the first time in three games with a Tuesday night trek to Clayton State. Tipoff from Atlanta is set for 7 p.m. with pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network beginning at 6:45 p.m. with the Appalachian Electric Cooperative Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.