VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (18-10) opens up play in the South Atlantic Conference Tournament looking for a third win this season against Newberry (18-10). The teams square off at 8 p.m. Wednesday inside Holt Fieldhouse.
The Eagles are the fourth seed in the tournament. The Wolves are the five. C-N is 4-3 all-time as a four seed. Carson-Newman took both the regular season meetings from the Wolves. The Eagles won 116-94 at Newberry on Dec. 3 and took a 110-91 win inside Holt Fieldhouse on Jan. 21. The Wolves enter the tournament on a four-game winning streak.
"They frighten me," head coach Chuck Benson said. "Our past successes against them don't mean anything. I'm sure that actually motivates them. They know how to do things only one way, and that's playing 40 minutes of hair-on-fire attack mode on both sides of the ball. We'll have to have our focus and determination to counter their effort for 40 minutes, anything less and we'll come up short."
Carson-Newman has been spectacularly effective against Newberry this season. The Eagles are averaging 113 points this season against the Wolves on 63.6 percent shooting. Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.) and Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) have both particularly stick out.
Williams is averaging 29.5 points and 7.5 rebounds on 70.6 percent shooting. Clark sits at 27 points and 9.5 rebounds. He's hitting at a 62.5 percent clip. Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.) hasn't missed yet this season against the Wolves. He's 17-for-17 from the field. In the first meeting, he matched a SAC and Carson-Newman record for most field goals made without missing with a 12-for-12 effort.
Williams needs 10 more points to become the 13th man in Carson-Newman basketball history with 1,500 points. Clark became the 12th two games ago against Brevard.
Newberry is trying to make it to Greenville for a fourth straight year. The Wolves have gone on the road two of the last three seasons to win their quarterfinal contest. Last year, Newberry scored a 98-90 win over Lenoir-Rhyne in Hickory to advance to Furman, in 2014, L-R again fell victim in the quarters 84-79.
Carson-Newman is at home for the quarters for a fourth time in five years. The Eagles are 2-1 in that span. They have a pair of tight wins over L-R and Coker in that time, as well as a loss to the Cobras in what was a 7-2 upset. The Eagles beat L-R at home the last time they were a four seed.
Carson-Newman is 4-0 all-time in the tournament against Newberry. The Eagles last beat the Wolves in the 2015 semis en route to a SAC title. The other three times came in the quarters. C-N won 86-55 in the 1999 season, the only other time the teams have met in a 4-5 matchup.
The Eagles enter the tournament off some spectacular individual performances. There aren't many words to describe what Charles Clark did to Coker on Feb. 25. Clark produced his third triple-double of the season, his second consecutive AND broke the SAC and Carson-Newman single-game scoring record with a 54-point, 11-rebound, 12-assist effort.
"Those numbers speak for themselves," Benson said. "He's be unbelievable humble about all this, and share in the success with his teammates. I think he has a high ceiling. He's so drive and confident, he's beginning to stretch his legs a bit. I'm hoping this is the new norm, and I think it is, because when the ball's in his hands, he demands so much attention, that it makes us a lot better."
The bonkers night, which earned Clark SAC Player of the Week honors, is believed to be the highest scoring triple-double in the history of basketball, either NBA or NCAA. Wilt Chamberlain and James Harden each scored 53 for NBA triple-doubles. Oscar Robertson had 39 in an NCAA tournament triple-double for Cincinnati.
Clark bests Ish Sanders' previous Carson-Newman record (51 points against Mars Hill in 2011) and Lenoir-Rhyne's RJ McClure's SAC record (52 points against Anderson in 2014). Clark also reset the Carson-Newman record for points in a half with 36 in the second half. That breaks a 57-year-old record held by Chris Jones, who had 33 in a half against Emory and Henry.
The back-to-back triple-doubles for the Clark are the seventh time that has happened in NCAA history, and the first time it's occurred at the Division II level.
Carson-Newman put up 72 points in the second half against the Coker Cobras. The scoring effort gets within spitting distance of the school-record 88 points Carson-Newman scored in a half of a game against Tusculum in 1988. They are the most points Carson-Newman has scored in a half this century. Carson-Newman got on the plus side of 120 points for the first time since 2008 when the Eagles downed Catawba 129-123. The trio of Charles Clark, Sawyer Williams and Malik Abraham outscored the Cobras 103-91.
Newberry is one of the top offensive teams in the country. The Wolves average 94 points per game, the top figure in the South Atlantic Conference and the fourth best tally in the country.
"They are going to score points," Benson said. "They love the three, and that drives and fuels them. On the flip of that, we have to score points. We aren't going to hold them to 75. We have to push that 100-point mark and hope we squeeze out the win."
Newberry is number one in the nation in steals per game (13.1), total steals (367), threes made (396), threes made per game (14.1), and threes attempted (1,059).
The Wolves also rank second in turnovers forced (22.86) and turnover margin (+6.5).
Thanks to Dave Davis' platoon system, the Wolves have six players who all average at least 10 points per game. James Stepp is the top scorer at 13.9 points per game. Gerald Evans averages 13 a game.
Evans is number six in the country in steals per game. The senior has 73 on the year, which is one of the top 10 seasons in SAC history for steals.
Tipoff between the Eagles and Wolves is set for 8 p.m. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 7:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online eat cneagles.com/live.