VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (7-8, 5-4 South Atlantic Conference) embarks on its longest road trip of the season – a 306-mile jaunt to Hartsville, S.C. – to tangle with Coker (5-8, 4-5 SAC) at the DeLoach Center Saturday afternoon at 4.
Coker owns a 4-1 lead in the brief series and won the earlier meeting this season 69-60 after forcing a season-high 24 Carson-Newman turnovers off of a season-high 16 steals.
"If I had an exact answer on how to improve against them, we wouldn't have been virtually owned by them the last two years," head coach Chuck Benson said. "They've dominated us it seems like of late. In one sense, that's concerning; in another sense, it's a great amount of motivation for us."
Save for an 82-80 loss to Queens, Carson-Newman has performed far better defensively in the New Year, holding three of its first four opponents under 35 percent shooting and 62 points.
The Eagles' resurgent defense will be challenged by the SAC's best scoring threat in 2014-15.
Coker guard Errick Bethel is coming off a 29-point effort for the Cobras in a five-point loss at Catawba. Bethel leads the league in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He had 19 points (7-for-15 from the field and 3-for-7 from three) to go along with four assists and six steals.
Bethel has crested the 20-point mark five times this season. Included in that is a 33-point outburst against North Greenville.
"We've got a game plan in place for him," Benson said. "He's more than capable of putting the ball in the basket. Part of that plan is to be aware of him at all times, but we can't have other players hurting us at the same time."
Coker has been dealing without the services of star forward Larry Felder. The Cobras started the year 4-3 with him. They've lost six of the last eight without him.
"Anytime you lose personnel, it's a problem," Benson said. "They've adjusted to him being gone. But everyone goes through that. Jared Johnson's not 100 percent for us. We lost Larry Curry before the year started and we thought he'd be a major factor for us. It's all about how you respond to it."
The Cobras have defended home court well. Coker has won back-to-back in the pristine DeLoach Center (both by at least 15 points) and is 4-3 at home on the season. The Cobras have lost twice at home in conference play but not by more than four points.
Meanwhile, the Eagles' go-tos of late have been inside. Carson-Newman features three of the best shooters in the league. Carson Brooks (Knoxville, Tenn.), Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.) and Josh Rogers (Bristol, United Kingdom) occupy spots 3-5 in the league leaderboards for field goal percentage. All have hit 60+ percent of their shots this season.
Collectively, Brooks, Williams and Rogers combined to go 18-for-23 from the field against Brevard, scoring 41 points. They were 78 percent from the field in the Eagles' 22-point win.
Tipoff from Hartsville is set for 4 p.m. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 3:45 with the Appalachian Electric Cooperative Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.