VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
Carson-Newman tries to make its first SAC championship since the 2002 season when it raced to its second ever SAC tournament title with an 88-51 semifinal win over Tusculum and a 76-62 triumph over Wingate in the title game. Carson-Newman has lost four straight in the SAC semifinals, most recently to LMU in 2013 69-59.
Carson-Newman hasn't run up against Newberry in the SAC tournament in more than a decade. The Eagles have met the Wolves three times in the SAC tournament, winning on all three occasions. The Wolves and Eagles have only met in the quarterfinals, last doing so in a one versus eight matchup in 2003.
Carson-Newman is riding a six-game win streak over Newberry, the Eagles have outscored the Wolves 94.5-83.3 during that stretch.
C-N's posts have historically had success against the Wolves. Carson Brooks (Knoxville, Tenn.) has averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds in the Eagles' two games with Newberry this season. Sawyer Willliams (Owenton, Ky.) averages 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in his four lifetime games with the Wolves.
Newberry sports one of the most prolific offenses in the country. The Wolves average 90.5 points per game, the third most in the country. Newberry is also third in the nation in three-pointers. The Wolves drain 11.6 per game. Newberry has produced 500 assists (best in the conference and 10th in the nation) while generating 267 steals, the 13th highest total in the nation.
The Wolves are led by first team all-conference guard Demarkus Smith. He registers as the league's fourth leading scorer with 17 points per game. Smith scored 14 in the game at Holt Fieldhouse and had a career high 30 against the Eagles in the two OT game at Eleazer Arena.
"Smith and Dondray Walker are a proven one-two scoring punch," head coach Chuck Benson said. "But they've got so many guys who can put the ball in the hoop. You can go into this game and take away one or two guys, and they've still got unbelievable scoring power. I'm just hoping we're able to put points on the board against them."
The Eagles are in the semis thanks to a 69-63 win over Coker. The win over the Cobras snapped a three-game skid to Coker. Meanwhile, Newberry made the final four in the league tourney with a 98-87 triumph over Catawba. The Wolves led by 30 in that one before staving off a late Catawba rally.
In the meeting a week ago, Carson-Newman closed the contest on a 7-0 run and drained a season high 13 threes to knock off Newberry 89-82. That win is what secured Carson-Newman the second seed in the SAC tournament.
"I think it helps them and us with this quick turnaround," Benson said. "It's good because there's not a lot that can change in just a week and everything's fresh on both of our minds. It'll create an interesting dynamic. That's for sure."
The game featured the Wolves' usual frenetic pace and a slew of runs resulted. Carson-Newman headed into the locker room with a 44-35 lead thanks to a 15-4 run to close the first half. Newberry would make short work of the Eagles' advantage, racing out of the gates to begin the second half on a 27-9 spurt that turned the Eagles' 11-point advantage into a seven-point lead for the Wolves with 13:37 left in regulation on a Mitch Riggs layup. The Wolves hit 10 of their first 12 shots to begin the second half.
The squads battled back and forth until Carson-Newman took the lead with 9:29 to play on a thunderous Brooks dunk over Xavier Holmes and Gerald Evans that resulted in an and-1 and a 69-66 advantage for the Eagles that they would not relinquish.
Newberry tied Carson-Newman on three occasions down the stretch, but never could get over the hump. The final tie came at 82-82 with 2:31 left on a Smith layup. However, the Eagles countered with a Jared Johnson (Springfield, Mass.) contorting runner in the middle of the paint that drew a foul as the shot dropped. A quintet of free throws helped the Eagles close the game with a seven-point win in tow.
The contest saw Carson-Newman drain a season-high 13 threes and dish out 28 assists, the most assists in a game for the Eagles since facing Newberry two years ago. Josh Rogers (Bristol, United Kingdom), Mason Bates (Cookeville, Tenn.) and Brooks all had five assists.
Tipoff from Timmons arena is slated for 8 p.m. Saturday. The winner advances to the SAC title game against the winner of the other semifinal versus Lincoln Memorial and Queens. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network begins 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.