JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (9-6, 6-3 South Atlantic Conference) has won nine consecutive games in the state of South Carolina, a win streak it puts on the line when it tips off at 4 p.m. Saturday in Hartsville against Coker (6-9, 3-6 SAC).
The Eagles haven't lost in the Palmetto State since a 73-63 setback at the Abney Center to Anderson on Feb. 18, 2015.
If C-N is to continue that streak, it will have to do so against one of the best pressure defenses in the county. The Cobras force their opponents into 19.67 turnovers per game (fifth in the nation). Of those, 10.1 per game come off steals (seventh in the country). Coker has 11 games this year with double-digit steal numbers.
"It's noticeable that they are playing as hard, if not harder than anyone in this conference, and are doing it consistently," head coach Chuck Benson said. "They play as hard as Newberry, but they aren't as risk oriented in their defense as Newberry. The comparison between the two is based on the effort and speed that they play."
While the Cobras cause havoc for their opposition with their pace of play, Coker also coughs up the ball a bunch. The Cobras are bottom five in the country with 265 turnovers this season. A 0.63 assist to turnover ratio ranks 293 out of 305 Division II teams as well.
"We have to take care of the basketball ourselves," Benson said. "We also have to be ready to fight fire with fire and put the pressure on them if we have to and see and how they respond to it."
Defense has been the name of the game in the series all-time against Carson-Newman. The Eagles have won three straight in the series, including a sweep last year. However, in Coker's four wins over C-N since joining the league in 2013, the Cobras have forced 20 turnovers on two occasions and kept the Eagles to 40 percent shooting or worse twice. Carson-Newman's 15-point win at home last season was the Eagles biggest win in series history.
Carson-Newman aims to win its fourth game in five tries since returning from Christmas break. Four players are averaging more than 13 points per game since the Eagles' returned from the holiday break.
Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) leads the way with 18.2 points per game, while Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.) adds 18.0. Then, Malik Abraham (Snellville, Ga.) and Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.) chip in 15.0 and 13.2 a game respectively. Jones is averaging a double-double as well.
The Eagles enter the contest off their most balanced effort of the season. The four mentioned above, as well as Zack Pangallo (Newport, Ky.) and Cameron Holmes (Fort Mill, S.C.) all had 10 points in the Eagles' 86-71 win over Brevard. It marked the first time since Dec. 2015 that C-N had six players finish as double-digit scorers.
Together they'll have to contend with an extremely deep Coker team. First-year head coach Aric Samuel has 11 players who average at least 10 minutes per game while nine different players have started games.
JaQuez Medley leads Coker with 13.2 points per game. He and Jake Barrett are the Cobras only double-digit scorers. Barrett averages 11.7 a game. Four other players score at least seven points a game.
Medley leads the South Atlantic Conference with his 119 three-point attempts. He is fourth in the league with his 42 made triples.
"We have to be there on the catch because he has NBA-plus range," Benson said. "You have to force him to go towards the basket as opposed to spotting up."
Tipoff between the Eagles and Coker is set for 4 p.m. Coverage on the Eagle 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.