VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
VIDEO: Sawyer Williams Interview
VIDEO: Shaun Jones Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Fourth-seeded Carson-Newman (19-10) used an amorphous blob of a two-three zone to force fifth-seeded Newberry (18-11) into shooting a SAC record 57 threes en route to a 96-74 win over the Wolves Wednesday night at Holt Fieldhouse in the quarterfinals of the South Atlantic Conference Tournament.
The Eagles move on to the semifinals to play top-seeded Lincoln Memorial Saturday at 5:30.
Newberry attempted a South Atlantic Conference-record 57 threes. However, the Wolves only made 15 of them to shoot 26.3 percent from deep. Newberry shot 30.7 percent from the game and went 12-for-31 from inside the three-point arc.
Carson-Newman had used man defense in sweeping the regular season series with the Wolves, but switched almost exclusively to its zone package for the quarterfinal matchup.
"I really thought this would be a situation where we would struggle to defend them," head coach Chuck Benson said. "I'm really surprised the way we were able to defend them with our zone. This gives me a lot more confidence in our zone moving forward this postseason."
Newberry jumped out to a 5-0 lead as the Eagles turned it over on each of their first four possessions.
Carson-Newman finally came to life after the first media timeout. Carson-Newman rattled off a 13-2 run and had a 13-7 lead in hand with 14:30 to play in the first half when Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), the reigning national player of the week, smoothly used a Euro step to create separation down on the right block for a layup.
The Eagles wouldn't trail the rest of the way.
"I just had a gut feeling," Benson said of choosing to use zone. "Dave Davis does an outstanding job in terms of adjustments and we knew they'd bring it tonight. They threw the first punch, we didn't respond and we finally stabilized. It worked out for us over the long haul. I thought our kids did a good job of disrupting their rhythm. They were flying around a little bit."
After Newberry cut the deficit to four with under 10 minutes to play, the Eagles used an 8-0 run, bolstered by a Sawyer Williams (Owenton, Ky.) layup and a Malik Abraham (Snellville, Ga.) jam on the break. That put the Eagles up double-figures 26-14 with 8:49 to play. Newberry only got within single digits twice the rest of the way.
The Eagles used another 8-0 run early in the second half to extend the lead out to 20 and salt things away.
Carson-Newman got prodigious efforts out of Williams and Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.) down low. Jones had a double-double before the first half let out. He finished with 26 points, matching his career high, on 11-of-14 shooting. Jones went 28-for-31 from the field this season against Newberry. He also grabbed a career high 18 rebounds, the most for a Carson-Newman basketball player since the year 2000, and dished out a season-best six assists.
"He lives in the moment and wants to be in the semifinals of this tournament," Benson said. "He demonstrated that with his actions tonight. To be as efficient as he is and the way he's rebounding that ball, it's just incredible. He knows how to do it."
Williams scored his 1,500th career point late in the first half and finished with 25 – his 24th career 20-point game. He was a rebound shy of a double-double and also dished out a career high five assists.
"What an iconic final performance for Sawyer in Holt," Benson said. "His level of consistency is what defines him. He never stops. In his last game here, he does one of those signature Sawyer things, where he blocks a shot on one end, and gets a tip on the other. Sawyer Williams is what we want in this program. It saddens me to know that this was our final game together in Holt Fieldhouse. He goes down as one of my all-time favorites. I'll miss coaching him when the season ends."
Clark notched his fourth straight double-double with 13 points and a career best 14 boards. Abraham tallied 18 points and five assists.
C-N shot 55.6 percent from the field, but was just 7-for-21 from deep. The Eagles did go 6-for-10 from three after halftime.
The Eagles outrebounded Newberry 59-38, the most rebounds in a game since C-N snagged a school-record 67 against Hiwassee in 2009. Carson-Newman outscored the Wolves 62-25 in the paint and 15-2 on the fast break.
Newberry got a career best 30-point night from James Stepp. The guard was 10-for-24 from the field and 8-for-18 from three. Xavier Hill was the only other Wolf in double figures, he had 12.
Carson-Newman improves to 5-0 all-time in the SAC tournament against Newberry.
The Eagles will tipoff with top-seeded Lincoln Memorial on Saturday at 5:30 from Timmons Arena in the SAC semifinals. Pregame coverages starts at 5:15 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.