VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
VIDEO: Sawyer Williams Interview
VIDEO: Carson Brooks Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Second-seeded Carson-Newman (16-13) held seventh-seed Coker (12-15) six minutes without a field goal late in the second half while utilizing a 13-3 run in the interim to procure a 69-63 win over the Cobras and lock up a spot in the SAC tournament semifinals Saturday.
"This is one of those deals where they (Coker) have been so dominant against us," head coach Benson said. "They were in control of this one until the very end in my mind. I'm so proud of our guys because they did enough to get this win, and it's a huge one for us at this point in the season."
The win snaps a three-game skid for the Eagles against the Cobras and enacts some retribution on the team that halted C-N's run in the SAC tournament last year in the same two v. seven matchup.
The Eagles advance to take on third-seeded Newberry Saturday, who defeated Catawba 98-87 in the quarterfinal round.
The back-and-forth affair between the Eagles and Cobras featured 12 ties and 25 lead changes as neither team was able to take more than a seven point lead. Coker grabbed its seven-point advantage with 9:53 left in the second half on an Alex Cohen corner three.
The Eagles quickly rallied with a layup from Jared Johnson (Springfield, Mass.) and a foul-line jumper from Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.). While the Eagles' offense surged, their defense stiffened.
After an Aubrey Daniel baseline jumper reestablished a three-point lead for Coker with 7:28 left, the Eagles held Coker nearly six minutes without a field goal while traipsing out on a 13-3 run to grab a seven-point lead of their own.
"We made certain that our guys knew that there was still 25 percent of the game left to play," Benson said. "Even though we were down seven, we felt if we got stops and got nontraditional baskets off offensive rebounds and in transition then we could cut that lead down. We were more aggressive. Our guys listened and our guys gave extra attention to detail to get the win."
A fast break layup by Clark and a 17-foot keyhole jumper by Carson Brooks (Knoxville, Tenn.) highlighted the exchange for the Eagles, who took the lead for good with 4:48 left in the second half.
The Eagles' clamped down on Coker during that six minute stretch that saw the Cobras go 0-for-5 from the field, 1-for-3 from the stripe and turn it over on a trio of occasions. Perhaps more impressive was the Eagles' defensive performance on second team all-SAC guard and the league's leading scorer Errick Bethel.
Bethel had averaged 22.3 points against the Eagles in the Cobras last three wins over C-N. However, the Eagles kept him to 1-for-10 shooting (0-for-4 from three) and five points. It marked just the third time Bethel had been held under 10 points this season.
"We might have gotten beat tonight, but we weren't going to get beat with Errick Bethel getting 30," Benson said. "We were on him all over the place. I was really pleased with our performance on him because he can get points in bunches, and he was really a nonfactor tonight."
Carson-Newman was led by Clark's 18 points; he was 7-for-12 from the field. Brooks and Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.) each had double-doubles. Brooks collected his with 15 points and 11 boards, while Williams chipped in 17 and 11. It marked the first time Carson-Newman had a pair of players with double-doubles since Andy Tipton and Scott Williams did it nearly a decade ago against Alabama-Huntsville in November of 2006.
"We challenged Sawyer and Carson to erase their rebounding advantage," Benson said. "They listened and did everything in their power to allow us to continue to play. They don't rebound the way they did, we don't win this game."
Josh Rogers (Bristol, United Kingdom) rounded out the Eagles' double-digit scorers with 10 points, nine of which came in the first half.
Aubrey Daniel wound up leading the Cobra's in Bethel's offensive absence. The 7.4 point per game scorer had 18 on 6-for-11 shooting, including 3-for-7 from deep. Donte Samuels added 13 in 22 minutes, but was hampered by foul trouble in the contest. Trey Marshall had 12.
Carson-Newman shot 52 percent from the field (26-for-50). The Eagles hit 54 percent of their second half shots including the first five of the second stanza.
The Eagles biggest problem on the day was free throws. The league's best free-throw shooting team at 73 percent, Carson-Newman only connected on 15-of-27 freebies for a 55.6 clip.
Tipoff from Timmons Arena Saturday is slated for 8:00 p.m. with Newberry. The Eagle Sports Network will hit the air at 7:45 p.m. with the Appalachian Electric Cooperative Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.