JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (4-0) puts its unbeaten record on the line in Holt Fieldhouse this weekend with games against another unbeaten in Lee (4-0) and Columbus State (0-1) club that has been to three consecutive NCAA tournaments.
The Eagles take on Lee Saturday at 4 p.m. before taking on Columbus State at 3 p.m. Sunday. The Cougars will also play on Saturday in Holt Fieldhouse, taking on Tusculum in a neutral site contest at 6 p.m.
Carson-Newman hasn't started a season 5-0 since the 2012-13 season. The Eagles are looking for their first 6-0 start since 1987-88. That year, the Eagles beat Pikeville twice, Union twice, Tennessee Temple and Athens State before losing to Mars Hill. The only seasons where the Eagles started hotter were '73 (7-0) and program best starts in '67, '61 and '60 (8-0).
Benson's Bunch has roared to its 4-0 start thanks to an efficient offense. The Eagles have a pair of nights where they've shot at least 60 percent from the field for half their games (Southern Wesleyan and King). As a result, the Eagles have made 55.9 percent of their shots. That's good for second in the country behind Barry and the Bucs' 58.3 percent clip.
Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.) is third in the country in individual field goal percentage. The senior has made 80 percent of his shots. Jones was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field against SWU and a flawless 6-for-6 against King.
Standing in front of the Eagles and a prodigious start is a hot-shooting Lee team. The Flames sit a spot behind the Eagles in terms of offensive efficiency in the country. Lee shoots 55.6 percent from the field.
However, while the Eagles have prodigious scoring punch in the form of Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) and his 22.5 points per game, the Flames are more balanced.
Ryan Montgomery is the only Flame who averages double figures. Montgomery scores 11.3 points per game. However, Lee has nine players, including Montgomery, who score at least six points per game.
The Flames have also been lethal from deep, knocking down 45.8 percent of their threes, good for 11th in the country.
Tusculum transfer Keaton Dotson and Cody Jones have been the most dangerous from deep, knocking down 9-of-15 and 6-of-12, respectively.
Lee was picked 10th in the Gulf South in the preseason after its first season under head coach Bubba Smith. Last year the Flames were 11-17 and 7-15 in league play.
While Lee is 4-0 this year, its three opponents, Miles, Tuskegee and Tusculum (twice), have combined to go 1-13 this year.
The Eagles and Flames renew a series that dates back to 1974-75. The Eagles lead the all-time ledger 22-10. This is the first meeting since Lee took a 106-91 decision during the 1992-93 campaign.
Following Saturday's contest with the Flames, the Eagles make the quick turnaround to take on Columbus State. The Eagles and Cougars have faced off thrice before, with CSU taking wins in 1999 and 2002. C-N was victorious in the last meeting, 84-60, in a tournament at Tusculum in 2012.
Columbus State has only played one game this season, a 73-62 loss to Montevallo. CSU was scheduled to play Albany State at the Rams Rising Tournament the next day; however, the untimely passing of Falcons player AJ Luke resulted in the cancellation of the remainder of the event.
While the sample size of CSU games in miniscule as a result, Cougar guard JaCori Payne is a known commodity. A preseason All-PBC choice, Payne was also named to Division II Bulletin's Super 16 preseason All-America team. That's a distinction that he shares for the Southeast Region with Carson-Newman's Charles Clark.
Payne was electric in the Cougars 11-point loss to the Falcons. He scored 25 points on 11-of-18 shooting, including 2-for-6 from deep.
The Cougars, who are coming off three consecutive NCAA tournaments, were picked third in the Peach Belt behind Augusta and UNC Pembroke this preseason.
Tipoff against Lee is set for 4 p.m. Saturday and for 3 p.m. against Columbus State Sunday. Pregame coverage for both contests will be available on the Eagle Sports Network 15 minutes prior to tipoff with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.