VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
VIDEO: Malik Abraham Interview
VIDEO: Zack Pangallo Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (6-4, 3-1 South Atlantic Conference) turned in its best defensive performance of the year to halt a five-game Catawba (8-3, 2-3 SAC) win streak and collect a 78-71 win over the Indians Wednesday night at Holt Fieldhouse.
Catawba entered the game with the 24th best scoring offense in the country. The Eagles limited the Indians to 35.3 percent shooting from the field and 10-of-36 shooting from three utilizing a zone defense that the Eagles' players took to calling "Death Ground" in the days of preparation leading up to the game.
The points were a season low for the Indians, as was the shooting percentage.
"We just wanted to shut down their drive," Zack Pangallo said. "That's why we call it 'Death Ground,' we were willing to live and die by the three tonight. We were able to shut down their drive and shut down their transition. It's nice to see us hold them below their average. This game was huge for us defensively. A game like this is great to have because we executed the game plan and it resulted in a win."
At the same time, the 71 points are the fewest the Eagles have allowed this season. The same goes for the Indians' field goal percentage.
"I'm so pleased," head coach Chuck Benson said. "I hadn't been pleased with how we'd been defending for nine games. So, I had to go back to my first love (a 2-3 matchup zone). Our guys did an unbelievable job of executing."
The Indians entered the game averaging 88 points per game on 48 percent shooting.
"I didn't have much confidence in us defensively," Benson said. "I've been pleased with our attitude and our offense, but our defense has been abysmal. We had some intense talks over the last few days. I couldn't be prouder with the way they played tonight."
The tide turned for Carson-Newman late in the second half. After 14 ties and nine lead changes, the Eagles' burst forth with an 11-0 run. Carson-Newman trailed 61-60 with 8:30 to play in the second half following a Malik Constantine bunny.
The Eagles wouldn't let Catawba score again for the next 3:57 of game action. Malik Abraham (Snellville, Ga.) knocked down a corner three to push the lead to four before knifing to the rim for an and-one that extended the Eagles' advantage to seven with 6:38 to play. Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.) capped the spurt with a pair of free throws.
"I thought there was a segment of time where our guys did an extraordinary job of knowing where their next responsibility would lie," Benson said. "At the same time, we did a good job of finishing on the other end."
Even with that spurt, Catawba made it a game late. The Indians rallied with a 7-0 run thanks to threes from Jerrin Morrison and Rakeem Brown. Catawba made it a two-point game, 73-71 with 55 seconds left. However, Carson-Newman went five-for-six at the charity stripe down the stretch to ice the game.
Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) played through flu-like symptoms to score 20 points for a third consecutive game. The All-America candidate had 22 on 7-of-10 shooting and added seven rebounds.
"He was sick as a dog today," Benson said. "Brywan Campbell did an exceptional job getting him up to speed. I knew Charles would play. He's a warrior. If he had life in him, he was playing."
Abraham matched his career high with 21 points. He was 4-of-8 from distance. He had six of the points on the Eagles' 11-0 run that created the necessary separation to get the win. He also matched a career high with three steals.
"I was just trying to be aggressive, especially with Bird not feeling well," Abraham said. "I tried to step up and take the pressure off him. My teammates did a good job finding me, and my shots fell today."
Williams and Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.) rounded out the Eagles' double-digit scorers. Williams went for 13 points and seven boards. Jones tallied his fifth double-double in 10 games with 13 points and 12 boards.
Jones and Pangallo led the Eagles in assists with four, each.
With the Eagles' stingy D, a slew of Catawba players had off nights. KJ Arrington was one of them. The Indians' leading scorer entered the contest averaging 19.2 points per game. C-N held him to 1-of-10 shooting from deep and six points.
Jameel Taylor led Catawba with 22 points, six assists and three boards. He was the only Indian who shot better than 50 percent from the field, going 8-for-14. Jerrin Morrison went for 18, but on 6-of-19 shooting, including 3-of-12 from deep.
C-N shot 49 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three.
The Eagles close out play before Christmas at Lenoir-Rhyne on Saturday. Tipoff against the Bears from Shuford Memorial Gym is set for 4 p.m. Pregame coverage on the Eagles Sports Network starts at 3:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.