VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
VIDEO: Charles Clark Interview
VIDEO: Carson Brooks Interview
HARROGATE, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (11-10, 9-6 South Atlantic Conference) upended No. 1 Lincoln Memorial (20-1, 14-1 SAC) 87-72 behind torrid shooting and a career high 30 points from freshman Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.).
"They are as good as advertised," head coach Chuck Benson said. "But tonight our guys were better. I give credit to our players. They put together an unbelievably solid performance tonight and did it against the number one team in the country. This was a great opportunity for us and I'm just glad that we were able to experience this."
Lincoln Memorial, the nation's top-ranked team for defensive field goal percentage, allowed Carosn-Newman to connect on 32-of-64 shots (50 percent). The Railsplitters hadn't allowed any team this season to shoot better than 43 percent from the field.
"We preach to our young guys to just go play," Benson said. "Our guys did that to their best tonight. They played and they just played. They didn't need to look over to the bench at every turn to see what I had to say. They just went out and played."
Lincoln Memorial, meanwhile, endured its worst shooting performance of the season. The Railsplitters shot 37.7 percent (26-for-69) from the floor and went 9-for-27 from three-point territory. The Railsplitters had not shot worse than 38 percent since Carson-Newman held them to 36 percent shooting in a 77-69 Eagle win on February 22, 2012.
Lincoln Memorial had not trailed by double-digits all season, in fact, the largest deficit it had faced this season was a seven-point deficit to King in what amounted to a seven-point LMU win.
LMU started the game on a 7-2 run as the Eagles went 0-for-6 from the floor, but C-N connected on 10 of its next 14 shots and outscored the home team 23-10 over the next nine and a half minutes, taking a 25-17 lead on a bucket by Clark with 8:18 left in the half. The Railsplitters were able to rattle off a 6-0 run to cut the Eagle lead to two points, but a 14-4 spurt put LMU in its largest hole of the season at 39-27 with 1:47 left in the frame.
Carson-Newman headed into the lockerroom with a 39-31 advantage. The Eagles raced out of the gates to start the second half on a 6-1 run to retake a double digit lead that would grow as large as 16 points in the second half.
Lincoln Memorial would cut the deficit to seven (as close as the Railsplitters would get in the second half on a Keenan Peterson jumper with 9:59 to play. However, the Eagles whipped out six straight points feature a pair of Carson Brooks (Knoxville, Tenn.) layins to push the lead back past 10. Carson-Newman would counter every Railsplitter run down the stretch.
Carson-Newman finished on the plus side of 50 percent shooting for a fifth consecutive game. The Eagles are shooting 57 percent from the field over those five contests.
Clark poured in his 30 points on 11-for-17 shooting. He becomes the first C-N player to drop 30 since Ish Sanders scored 31 against Queens on his senior day. He is also the first freshman player to score 30 since Sanders hit for a school record 51 in his freshman season in 2011.
"The drive was working for me," Clark said. "I was able to get some angles to get open layups. Antoine and Ish are great players. To do something that they've done speaks wonders."
Carson Brooks followed with a double-double, the third of his junior season with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Brooks was largely held in check for the first half in part due to foul trouble. However, he stormed out of the gates in the second half with 16 points and eight rebounds on 7-for-9 shooting.
Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.) represented C-N's third double-digit scorer with 14 points and seven rebounds. He finished 5-for-7 from the floor.
The Eagles outrebounded the Railsplitters 45-35, something that no team had done to LMU this season. The Railsplitters had a +11.8 rebounding margin coming into the contest.
The Eagles held LMU's leading scorer Luquon Choice to 18 points, but he was highly inefficient, going 5-for-17 from the field. The same could be said of Lorenza Ross, who had 12 points on 4-for-16 shooting. Keenan Peterson just missed a third-straight double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. Gerrel Simmons had 11 points to round out LMU's double-digit scorers.
The Eagles forced 10 Railsplitter turnovers and turned them into 16 points. Carson-Newman scored off of all but two of LMU's miscues.
Carson-Newman collects its third ever victory against a team ranked number one. Carson-Newman defeated Kentucky State in the 1960s and Kentucky Wesleyan in the 1970s. This is the Eagles' first ever road victory of a number one team.
"The credit goes to our Director of Athletics Allen Morgan," Benson said. "I was laid up Tuesday (with an illness) and he came to our practice and gave a soul-stirring speech and challenge. They responded to his challenge. I missed practice, so the credit goes to Morgan, Shane Williams, Ray Likely and our guys. They performed at an unreal high level."
Carson-Newman stays on the road Saturday to face off with Lenoir-Rhyne. The Eagles are looking for their first win at Shuford Memorial Gym since 2010 and their first sweep of L-R since Benson took over as head coach. Tipoff 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.