VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carosn-Newman's men's basketball team will debut in an exhibition game for the first time since 2012 when the Eagles take to Thompson-Boling Arena for a 7 p.m. tipoff with the Tennessee Volunteers.
The game will be broadcast on the Eagle Sports Network locally and SEC Network+ online.
"Those preseason games are so valuable because they give you a lot of information about where your team is at this point," head men's basketball coach Chuck Benson said. "All of it is to help us get ready for regular season play. This is an experience and is a part of an aggressive preseason schedule for us. Playing an SEC opponent is an exceptional opportunity for us."
The matchup features a litany of Tennessee connections, particularly at the top of the Carson-Newman's program.
The Eagles' head and assistant coaches, Chuck Benson and Shane Williams spent two seasons together on the Tennessee bench during the 1990's, when Williams was the Southeastern Conference's Ironman Award winner and Benson was an assistant coach for the Vols.
Benson, now in his eighth year as head coach at Mossy Creek, spent five seasons as an assistant at Tennessee. Benson was an assistant at Tennessee for two separate stints. He was on Wade Houston's staff for a season (1993-1994), followed by stints on Kevin O'Neill's staff (1994-1996) and Buzz Peterson's staff (2003-2005).
Williams would lead the Vols to an NIT appearance in his senior season. His 38.3 minutes played per game during his senior season are still a Tennessee record.
Now, they tutor the Eagles into their first foray against Division I competition since 2012.
The Eagles lost by eight that season to East Tennessee State and by three to Appalachian State. In Boone, N.C., Carson-Newman led the Appalachian State Mountaineers for the first 28 minutes, but a 9-3 Mountaineer run in the second half helped propel ASU to a 62-59 victory over Carson-Newman. Carson-Newman had chances to take the lead and tie with a three on two occasions in the final 60 seconds, but Jay Canty intercepted a pass to thwart one final Eagle heave.
Against ETSU that year, the Eagles, who trailed by as much as 18 points in the second half, rallied back to trail 65-63 with 38 seconds remaining in the contest before the Bucs finished the contest with a six-point run to win by eight, 71-63.
Carson-Newman and Tennessee are hardly strangers to exhibition play. The Eagles and Vols played an exhibition contest back in 2011. C-N led 30-28 with just over three minutes to play in the first half before Tennessee went on an 11-0 run to seize a 39-30 lead at the break en route to a 73-52 win over the Eagles.
The South Atlantic Conference has pulled off an exhibition shocker nearly at a yearly rate. The league already has a win over a Division I foe this season. Lenoir-Rhyne used a 63-point second half to down The Citadel 97-83 on Oct. 29. Last year, eventual Sweet 16 participant Queens shocked Virginia Commonwealth 75-73. Two years ago, it was Newberry who outgunned Marshall's Thundering Herd 101-89.
Lenoir-Rhyne nearly added its name to that list a second time two years ago when it took Clemson to double overtime.
All three games have one thing in common, the lower division team out shot their DI opposition from the three-point stripe. Lenoir-Rhyne, Queens and Newberry all made double-digit threes to get the victories.
"They will be much improved," Benson said. "Everything I hear out of there indicates that they are going to press the for the postseason and make an NCAA tournament. Their understanding of Coach Barnes culture, standards and expectations have been embraced. This is a great opportunity for us because night in night out, we don't see that level of size and athleticism wrapped up in a great environment."
Carson-Newman is led by the aforementioned Clark, who has already been listed on a trio of preseason All-America teams at the start of his senior campaign. The MVP of Knoxville's Rocky Top Summer League sits on 1,687 career points.
Clark and company will match wits with a Tennessee team that went 16-16 a year ago. The Vols smoked Slippery Rock 83-48 in their lone exhibition game last year. Tennessee's roster was dominated by freshman a year ago. However, it was a freshman class that did set a program record for most points scored by a rookie crop of players.
Sophomore forward Grant Williams is the Vols leading returning scorer. The 6-7, 241-pound post produced 12.6 points and 5.9 rebounds a game last season.
"The ultimate goal is for us to continue to learn and figure out where we are," Benson said, "We want to be able to have poise, take punches and then punch back. We don't go into this game, much like any other game, focused on the outcome. We want to focus on the details that lead to the outcome. I just want to see how they respond to the situation, then respond to that and prep for Nov. 10 against Lander.
"We're so very grateful for Coach Barnes and the opportunity that he and his staff have given us," Benson said. "It's a tremendous opportunity against the best possible competition."
Tipoff between the Eagles and Vols is set for 7 p.m. Coverage of the game will be available on the Eagle Sports Network on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.