JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - Much rides on Carson-Newman (14-12, 12-8 South Atlantic Conference) and No. 3 Lincoln Memorial's Wednesday matchup at 5 p.m. inside Holt Fieldhouse.
A win for LMU keeps the Railsplitters in the hunt for the top spot in the Southeast Region and an opportunity to host the NCAA tournament in Harrogate. While Carson-Newman's NCAA tournament chances hinge on a SAC tournament championship at this juncture, the Eagles could vastly improve their standing for a first round home game with a win over LMU.
LMU has already secured its third consecutive South Atlantic Conference regular season crown. The Eagles are in a three-way tie for second place with Wingate and Newberry. Those two teams play Wednesday night with the winner remaining in second place and the loser falling into a tie with the winner of Catawba's home game with Queens.
The Railsplitters invade Mossy Creek riding the nation's longest road winning streak with 12 consecutive triumphs outside of Tex Turner Arena. Dating back to last season, Lincoln Memorial has captured 14 straight true road wins. Carson-Newman's 79-77 win in Jefferson City on February 5, 2014 was the last time the Railsplitters have tasted defeat in an opposing team's gym.
Carson-Newman takes aim at a regular season sweep of LMU, something the Eagles haven't done since the 2011-12 season. C-N beat LMU in the first meeting 87-72, snapping the Railsplitters' 20-game win streak and knocking LMU from the top position in both the NABC Coaches Poll and the D2SIDA media poll.
"They'll be at their best and still with a lot to play for even after clinching the regular season SAC title," head coach Chuck Benson said. "They'll be extra motivated because they want home court for the NCAA tournament and to be number one in the region. It goes without saying that we were fortunate to get a win at their place earlier this season and that should motivate them. Having said that, our guys are pretty motivated too to go out and play well again against Lincoln Memorial."
The Eagles kept LMU to its lowest field goal percentage since Carson-Newman swept the 2011-12 season series in Holt Fieldhouse.
Part of the Railsplitters shooting woes from the first meeting came from LMU's guards. Lorenza Ross went 4-of-16 from the field while Luquon Choice shot 5-of-17. Choice averages 16.3 points per game and 48 percent from the field. Ross is a 51 percent shooter who scores 12.5 a game.
"The preparation is critical. We know what LMU's strengths and weaknesses are. Luquon Choice and Lorenza Ross are definite strengths for them. They're all-conference guards," Benson said. "We knew we had to do a good job on them in the first meeting. That doesn't change her against them this time. We'll play to the scout and hope our kids can execute that."
Choice - a sophomore shooting guard - is eyeing a milestone in Wednesday's match-up as the Laurens, S.C. native has knocked down a SAC-leading 88 three-pointers this season. Choice needs two more triples to surpass David Hopper (1990-91) for LMU's single-season record.
LMU is the top-ranked defensive rebounding (29.4), defensive field goal percentage (36.9), and three-point field goal percentage defense (26.1) team in all of Division II. The Railsplitters are also top 10 nationally in scoring margin (2nd, 20.3), three-point field goal percentage (3rd, 42.8), rebound margin (4th, 10.7) and field goal percentage (7th, 50.8).
Carson-Newman shot 50 percent from the field on the Railsplitters in the first meeting this season. Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) had 30 points on 11-for-17 shooting while Carson Brooks (Knoxville, Tenn.) added 20. Brooks is coming off a career high 28-point effort in the Eagles' 25-point win over Queens. Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.) reset his career high for rebounds with 14 in the Eagles' triumph over the Royals.
"Carson and Sawyer have to be determined and deliberate," Benson said. "But I think this will more come down to our perimeter. Coach Schertz and his staff do an outstanding job and they'll have a few wrinkles trying to take away our inside game."
Tipoff from Holt Fieldhouse is set for 5 p.m. – the start time moved up because of the threat of significant snowfall later in the evening. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 4:45 with the Appalachian Electric Cooperative Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.