VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman tips off for its first regular season games in 2017 with a jaunt to the Electric City for a Conference Challenge with Lander and Southern Wesleyan, Friday and Saturday.
The Eagles open the year with Lander on Friday at 5:30 p.m. before quickly turning around to face Southern Wesleyan at 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon from Anderson's, the challenge's host institution, Abney Center.
The regular season begins after the Eagles played an exhibition with Tennessee and two scrimmages against Division II competition, both of whom factor in the D2SIDA and NABC top 25s.
"I couldn't be more pleased with the experiences we provided our team," head coach Chuck Benson said. "The way our kids have gone about their business through the most aggressive and challenging scrimmage schedule we've put together has been phenomenal. When I look at that, I can't think of anything else we could do to prepare ourselves for regular season play."
Carson-Newman men's basketball is 40-20 all-time in season opening games. The Eagles are 4-1 over the last five seasons in lidlifters, the lone loss came in 2014 to Barton.
Carson-Newman opened last season with a 106-83 win over Southern Wesleyan
Carson-Newman is 10-8 against Conference Carolinas competition under Benson and 4-4 against the Peach Belt. The Warriors and Bearcats were the only two schools from those leagues that the Eagles' played last year.
Carson-Newman hasn't lost in the Abney Center since Feb. 18, 2015 when it fell to South Atlantic Conference foe, and the Conference Challenge host Anderson 73-63
The Eagles will have to contend with Lander's Rahu Purdie, who is the lone returning Bearcat to average double figures from a year ago. He dropped 19 on the Eagles with 16 of those points coming before halftime.
"This is the third year of this challenge," Benson said. "Lander beat us in Holt the first year (72-65), we beat them at their place last year (88-73). I feel like we have a good feel of each other's styles going into this on a neutral court in Lander's home state. They have talent and scoring punch that's been tested through their own aggressive scrimmage schedule."
Meanwhile, Southern Wesleyan is coming off a 3-25 campaign from a year ago. However, the Warriors led by double-digits in the second half of a game with the Eagles two years ago before C-N rallied for a double-digit triumph.
"That first year we played them here in Holt, they gave us all we wanted," Benson said. "Any team that shows up on any given night and make shots can beat some body else. They are capable of making shots. Right now our focus is on Lander, but we know in less than 24 hours we have to turn around and play the Warriors."
The matchups will be the debut for preseason All-American Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) against Division II competition.
Charles Clark has scored 81 points in his career against this weekend's opposition. He has three 20-point games to his name against the Bearcats and Warriors.
Clark needs 13 points to hit the 1,700-point threshold for his career. Once he hits it, he will be ninth guy in program history to surpass it. He needs 18 points to catch Gil Lutrell for 8th on the all-time list. He will be the 11th man in league history to surpass that marker.
"It's been interesting for him," Benson said. "He comes into this year excited, obviously. However, he's figuring out that right now, he is all our opponent's sole focal point. I think he found his niche in our third preseason scrimmage. His big thing will be to realize that we have multiple threats and will need to share the ball like he did late last season. That will make us exceptionally difficult to defend."
Tipoff Friday is at 5:30. Pregame for that game starts at 5:15 on the Eagle Sports Network on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com. Saturday's game starts at 1 with a 12:45 airtime for the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country and cneagles.com/live.