JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (15-13, 13-9 South Atlantic Conference) has to get through the only team to beat it twice during the 2014-15 season if it wants to make its second ever SAC semifinal appearance under head coach Chuck Benson.
The second-seeded Eagles welcome in seventh-seeded Coker (12-14, 11-11 SAC) for a 7 p.m. tipoff in Holt Fieldhouse Wednesday in the South Atlantic Conference quarterfinals. The winner advances to Greenville, S.C. and a 7 p.m. date Saturday with the winner of the matchup between No. 6 Catawba and No. 3 Newberry.
Coker joined Lincoln Memorial as the only two schools in the SAC to sweep season series from the Eagles in the last three seasons. The Cobras took a 75-64 win in Hartsville after triumphing over Carson-Newman 69-60 in Holt Fieldhouse back on Nov. 22.
"We've tried to go into every one of these previous matchups as prepared as we could be," Benson said. "They've just outplayed us in each of those previous matchups for whatever reasons. Credit goes to them in that regard. We've had a lot of energy and intensity coming into this game. Our kids know what's at stake and how this team has dominated us of late. There's extra motivation for us, and hopefully that will help us play at our best."
The Cobras own a three-game win streak against the Eagles, including bouncing the Eagles' from last year's 2-7 matchup in the SAC quarterfinals 80-72. The Eagles are 1-5 against Coker going into the seventh meeting between the programs in a series that started during the 1996-97 season.
The Cobras are guided by the SAC's leading scorer Errick Bethel, who averages 19.9 points per game. He scored 19 on the Eagles in the first meeting in Holt before dropping 29 on 6-of-11 shooting from deep in Hartsville.
"He's the scoring champion," Benson said. "We don't want him to beat us, and we don't want to beat ourselves with turnovers."
Bethel has 13, 20-point games this season and has topped 30 on two occasions. He's drilled six threes against six different teams this year (including the Eagles). Bethel is third in the league in three pointers made this season with 86. He's first in the conference connecting on 129-160 free throw attempts.
"You might take Bethel for granted a little bit because he's small, 5-9, 150 pounds," Benson said. "But he's super fast and has an aggressive, green-light approach thing to things. He's got NBA range from three and he can blow past you off the dribble to get to the hole. He has every bullet in the offensive gun you need. You're not going to stop him completely. But you have to make certain he's only taking highly contested shots."
Coker guard Trey Marshall is 22nd in the nation in steals per game with 2.39 swipes a contest. He also leads the league in that category. Coker forced 24 C-N turnovers in the first meeting.
Carson-Newman is 1-3 all-time as a two-seed in the SAC tournament. That's where the Eagles were seeded last year before falling 80-72 to Coker. Prior to that, the Eagles hadn't been seeded second since 1995 when they defeated Gardner-Webb 81-76 in two overtimes in the opening round before falling in the semis to third-seeded Presbyterian 60-56. Carson-Newman is 11-13 all-time in the quarterfinals but 9-5 as a higher seed.
"We try to emphasize to our guys that this is a new season in and of itself," Benson said. "I liked where we were at wrapping up the regular season. It's a unique situation because we'd like to think we'd be able start fresh mentally. The motivation is there because we want to do our best to perform well and to continue to advance."
Carson-Newman has made it to the semi-final round just twice in the last decade. The Eagles beat L-R at home 58-54 in a four-five matchup to advance in 2013 before falling to LMU. The seventh-seeded Eagles upset Tusculum in 2010 before falling to eventual tournament champion Brevard in the semis.
The Eagles enter the tournament off an 89-82 win over Newberry where the Eagles drained a season-high 13 threes off a season-high 28 assists.
"I think our kids have got confidence," Benson said. "We have to make sure if doubled, we kick it out and get it into scoring range. It comes back to confidence and I think our kids come into this game with a lot of confidence."
Tipoff from Holt Fieldhouse is set for 7p.m. Wednesday. Coverage on the Eagle Sports Network will be available online at cneagles.com/live and over the airwaves on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) beginning with the Appalachian Electric Cooperative Countdown to Tipoff 15 minutes prior to tipoff.