VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (11-10, 9-6 South Atlantic Conference) will try to keep its season-long four-game win streak intact in a gym in which it hasn't won since the 2010-11 season.
The Eagles make the three-hour trek east to Shuford Memorial Gym to face off with Lenoir-Rhyne (8-11, 6-9), which has beaten C-N three straight times as the host, each time by 12 points.
"If we knew what it was that was so tough about that place, we could figure out a solution and maybe fix that problem," head coach Chuck Benson said. "It's been difficult for us to make shots consistently in that gym. They are so good defensively under coach John Lentz."
Carson-Newman is trying to keep the good times rolling following Wednesday night's 87-72 throttling of top-ranked Lincoln Memorial. The win not only gave the Eagles a shocking victory over their archrival, but it also moved C-N above .500 for the first time this season.
"We're not living in the past and celebrating the LMU win, nor are we living in the future," Benson said. "Our guys have done a good job of filtering that out and maintaining focus on L-R. We're just trying to dominate the moment."
Lenoir-Rhyne has been an up-and-down bunch to start the New Year. John Lentz – the dean of South Atlantic Conference coaches – saw his team start the year by winning four out of five contests. Then the Bears dropped four straight before grueling out a 46-45 win over Coker at home Wednesday night. That game was tied at 16 at the half.
The Bears made 19 field goals in that game (in comparison, the Eagles hit 32 in their win over LMU), the last of which was a game-winning jumper by freshman guard Justice Morgan with four seconds left.
As usual, John Lentz's club boasts one of the top defenses in the SAC, the Bears are second to LMU in the league in field goal percentage defense at 40.1 percent.
"They're a reflection of Coach Lentz," Benson said. "It's a toughness, a grittiness and blue-collar approach. Everything is going to be contested, and then they'll limit your second chances. We'll need our guys to continue to step up if we're to win."
Will Perry continues to lead the Bears offensively with 15.9 points per game, good for eighth in the league.
Big man Rob Noyes is the league's best rebounder, snatching 9.1 caroms a game. He is 30th in the nation with 7.7 defensive rebounds per game.
The Bears have struggled a bit offensively of late. L-R hasn't cracked the 65-point mark in six games, since a 69-50 thumping of Anderson on Jan. 17.
The Eagles have hit an offensive pinnacle over the last five games. C-N is averaging 56 percent from the field over the span going back to its 91-90 loss to Tusculum. The Eagles have won a season best four-straight games and are averaging 85 points per game over the stretch. Over the span, Carson Brooks (Knoxville, Tenn.), Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.), Charles Clark (Mufreesboro, Tenn.) – who has reset his career highs the last two nights with 26 and 30-point efforts - and Josh Rogers (Bristol, United Kingdom) are all shooting at least 60 percent from the field or better.
Carson-Newman had to overcome a 14-point deficit and 10 first half three pointers to beat the Bears in the first meeting this season, 80-76. Seven-footer Jake Wilson led the Bears that day with 17 points and 10 rebounds. The Eagles kept the Bears' two leading scorers, Perry and Noyes to under 10 points each. Perry had eight points and Noyes five.
However, Morgan and Reed Lucas combined to go 7-for-10 from beyond the arc to key the Bear attack.
"We have to guard them all," Benson said. "I think our guys have a better understanding of our defense at this point. They have enough variety and versatility to harm you in a lot of ways."
Carson-Newman was able to pick up the comeback win because of three-point shooting. The Eagles drained a season-high 13 threes in that game, including five apiece from Jared Johnson (Springfield, Mass.) and Andy Barnett (Pigeon Forge, Tenn.).
Tipoff from Shuford Memorial Gym is slated for 4 p.m. Saturday. 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.