VIDEO: Charles Clark Interview
VIDEO: Carson Brooks Interview
GREENVILLE, S.C. – Carson-Newman (18-13) dominated the glass and top-seeded and third-ranked Lincoln Memorial's (29-2) offense with a feisty zone that enabled the Eagles to supplant LMU 63-48 and lay claim to the South Atlantic Conference tournament championship Sunday afternoon at Timmons Arena.
Carson-Newman's tournament title is the third for the Eagles in school history and its first since 2002. Carson-Newman earns an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament and will be headed to postseason play for a second consecutive season.
Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) earned tournament MVP honors after scoring 23 points and snagging nine boards to send the Eagles past LMU. Clark scored 74 points in the tournament, nine away from Anderson's Denzail Jones and the tournament record.
"To get in this situation and have the guys perform like they did today," head men's basketball coach Chuck Benson said fresh off his first ever SAC tournament title. "It just speaks volumes for how far we've come this year. We had so many new guys and so many old guys in new roles. We kept steadily improving and it comes together in the postseason like this and we walk out of here with a conference tournament championship. We're blessed."
Carson-Newman held LMU to its worst scoring output of the season with just 48 points for the Railsplitters. The Eagles set a SAC title game record for fewest points allowed. The Railsplitters shot 35.1 percent from the field. LMU missed its first 13 shots as the Eagles' built a 14-2 lead in the game's opening minutes after Mason Bates (Cookeville, Tenn.) buried a three from the left corner.
The Eagles outrebounded LMU 51-31. The Railsplitters had an average of plus 11 on the glass on the season and were in the top 10 in the country for the category. It marked the worst rebounding margin for LMU since a game against Lenoir-Rhyne in 2007.
Carson-Newman's 51 caroms are the most for an Eagle club since Carson-Newman had that tally against Knoxville College in a tournament at Tusculum in November 2012. For the first time this century, Carson-Newman had three players finish with at least 10 boards. Josh Rogers (Bristol, United Kingdom), Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.) and Carson Brooks (Knoxville, Tenn.) all had 10 boards. Clark just missed out on joining the club with nine rebounds.
"It was demonstrated desire," Benson said. "Those guys were just animals. They wanted it. The credit goes to them. There's no magic. This is all about desire and want and our guys wanted it badly, period."
LMU would not go quietly into the night. Lincoln Memorial countered with a 13-2 punch, taking a one-point lead (23-22) on Luquon Choice jumper from the top of the key at the 4:14 mark.
After that fleeting offensive flourish, the Railsplitters went cold again as the half winded down. Lincoln Memorial missed its next three shots and turned the ball over twice, while Carson-Newman used a 6-0 spurt to build a 28-23 lead with 32 ticks left. Carson Brooks accounted for four of the points while Rogers swished in a 17-footer from the left win.
LMU brought the deficit down to a point in the second half after trailing by three at the break; however, Carson-Newman stamped out the Railsplitters hopes of back-to-back tournament title. The Eagles ripped off a 14-2 run over the next passage of play, which was capped by a Charles Clark three-pointer at 11:53. The Railsplitters went 1-for-10 from the field over that span.
"This is higher than what were tempted to do," Benson said. "This is a miraculous type thing. We're very thankful for this gift. Poise is one of our five core values. We had to be prepared for them to make runs, maybe multiple runs. We expected it. They weren't going to walk out of this thing without putting up a major fight."
The Eagles split the regular season series with LMU, but fell by 30 points at Holt Fieldhouse five games ago. In that game, Lorenza Ross and Luquon Choice ripped the Eagles to shreds. The SAC player of the year Ross had 10 points and 11 assists while Choice had 33 points.
The Eagles kept the duo in check in the title game, limiting Choice to two points on 1-for-10 shooting. Ross just had a single assist and four points.
Keenan Peterson led the Railsplitters and was the only player LMU had in double digits with 10 points.
Clark's 23 led the Eagles. Brooks tallied his fourth double-double of the season with 13 points and his 10 rebounds.
Carson-Newman is in the NCAA tournament and will learn its fate with the NCAA's selection show at 10:30 p.m. Sunday night.