VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
WINGATE, N.C. – Carson-Newman (16-13) saw junior forward Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.) become the 23rd men's basketball player to score 1,000 points in an orange and blue jersey, however, the sixth-seeded Eagles bowed out of the South Atlantic Conference men's basketball championship with a 75-69 loss to third-seeded Wingate Wednesday night in Cuddy Arena.
The Eagles led 38-33 at the break, but the Bulldogs utilized a 10-2 run and a seven-minute span where C-N only made one field goal to flip the script and turn a six-point deficit into a seven-point lead.
"I thought our performance in the first half was really, really sound," head coach Chuck Benson said. "We came out in the second half with a few things to work on, but Wingate came out with a renewed sense of purpose. I thought the turning point was that we didn't make free throws, we didn't capitalize, and then we turned it over. Those were the difference makers, and we just couldn't make up those losses."
Carson-Newman only had five turnovers in the first half, but gave the basketball up six times in 5:53 in the second half to help spark the Bulldogs' rally. Of those six turnovers, Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) accounted for five.
The Eagles also struggled to make shots against the league's top defense in the second half. C-N hit 53 percent of its shots in the first half. The Eagles then went 8-of-24 from the field in the second half. The Eagles only produced eight points in the paint after the break.
Clark and Williams led the Eagles with 15 points, apiece. Williams connected on layup with 4:25 left in the first half to get his 1,000th career point. He has 1,006 in his career.
"Sawyer is a shot-maker," Benson said. "He will be our post presence going into next year. He wasn't aware of that. It says something about him that he's not necessarily interested in those types of accolades."
Carson Brooks (Knoxville, Tenn.) was the Eagles only other double-digit scorer. The senior had 11. Brooks finishes his career with 1,216 points, good for 21st all-time on the Eagles' scoring sheet.
Mike Baez ed Wingate with 25 points and 10 rebounds. He also swiped three steals and had a pair of blocks.
Josh Dominguez added 12 points, including 3-of-5 shooting from deep. Keith Griffin, in spite of going 1-for-5 from the field, was a defensive force inside. He had five blocks, three in the final five minutes of the game.
Even with the loss, Carson-Newman sends its senior class out with four straight winning seasons for a second consecutive graduation year. Prior to last year's graduating class, Carson-Newman hadn't had four straight winning seasons since the 2003-04 class.
That class, the 2014-15 class and this year's team are the only senior classes to experience four-straight winning seasons since the Eagles' entered Division II.
Even with the winning season in hand, 2015-16 proved to have a myriad of frustrations for Benson has injuries multiplied, shortening the Eagles' bench.
"Every experience is a learning opportunity," Benson said. "This ends a very frustrating season. We had a lot of things that we couldn't control occur, and then with things that we could control, we didn't do as good a job with that as I'd liked. We lose a Josh Rogers and Carson Brooks who helped build an identity for this program. We've got a handful of guys returning who have had experiences here that hopefully we can build on and present a better product on the floor than we did this year."
For offseason updates on Carson-Newman men's basketball, check cneagles.com regularly and follow @CNAthletics on Twitter.