Eagles crush Cougars 99-69, match best start in nearly three decades

VIDEO: Highlights

VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
VIDEO: Malik Abraham Interview

VIDEO: Josh Murray Interview 

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (6-0) shot a blistering 61.9 percent from the field and used dominant defensive effort to crank by Columbus State (0-3), a team that has made three straight NCAA tournaments, 99-69 Sunday afternoon at Holt Fieldhouse.

The Eagles' 30-point margin of victory is their largest of the season.  It propelled Carson-Newman to a 6-0 start, the Eagles' best start since they opened up the 1987-88 season with six straight wins.  Carson-Newman shot at least 60 percent from the field for a third game this season. 

Carson-Newman hasn't started 7-0 since 1973.

"Our kids were excited and up for the challenge tonight," head coach Chuck Benson said. "Multiple guys stepped forward and delivered.  We come out of this weekend feeling really good about the strides we've made as we continue to move forward to conference play."

The contest saw Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) join the 1,800-point club, albeit on a night where he wasn't the Eagles primary star.

Clark only had 12 points, a season-low for the Eagles' leading scorer and preseason All-American.  Clark went 3-for-5 from the field, but acted more as a facilitator and distributor, dolling out five assists for a third time in four games.  Carson-Newman improved to 18-1 all-time when Clark produced at least five dime drops.

In Clark's scoring stead, Malik Abraham (Snellville, Ga.), Josh Murray (Burlington, N.C.) and Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.) erupted.  The trio combined for 59 points led by Abraham's 22. 

"Malik was frustrated last night after the game that he wasn't performing to the level he wanted," Benson said. "He got in the gym last night after the game and got shots up.  It paid off for him tonight. He didn't need it from a mechanical stand point.  He could have done this regardless of circumstances because he's an elite player and an elite shooter."

Abraham responded from Saturday's game with Lee where he had six points on 3-of-9 shooting and an 0-of-3 mark from three. The junior guard drilled 6-of-10 shots from distance and went 8-for-14 from the field to finish with a game-high 22.  He also handed out four assists. 

Carson-Newman then drilled the Cougars inside. Murray turned in a career night with 19 points and eight boards.  He was mind-numbingly efficient with an 8-of-10 effort from the field. Murray also blocked three shots.  Eight of Murray's points came on four dunks, the most in a single-game for Carson-Newman this century. 

The Eagles' were dominating at the rim as a whole, Carson-Newman threw down six dunks on the day, also a single-game high since the year 2000. 

Jones had one of those flushes to finish with a season-high 18 points and five boards. 

Carson-Newman and Columbus State battled tooth and nail through the game's first 12 minutes before the Eagles got some separation in the final five minutes of the game. 

Through 12 minutes, neither team led by more than four in a game that featured six ties and two lead changes. 

However, Carson-Newman drilled its foot through the accelerator for the final five minutes of the half.  The Eagles outscored the Cougars 21-5 down the stretch run of the first half, the bulk of it coming on a 13-0 run.  Abraham and Grant Teichmann (Brentwood, Tenn.) connected on back-to-back triples with 3:37 to play in the half to give Carson-Newman its first double digit lead of the night at 35-23.

Then, Mason Bates (Cookeville, Tenn.) pilfered a pass at the top of the key before and outlet pass to Abraham resulted in one of C-N's six slams and a 14-points lead.  The Eagles closed the half with layups from Teichmann and Jones to stretch the lead to 17 at the break, 45-28. 

The Eagles poured it on in the second half with a 15-3 run headlined by six straight points from Murray in the paint. 

Meanwhile, the Eagles' matchup zone kept CSU off-balance.  Preseason All-American JaCori Payne entered the game averaging 26 points for Columbus State.  The Eagles limited him to 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting.  He hit 3-of-9 threes.

"They are a very ball screen oriented offense, and tonight we did a good job with our ball screen defense," Benson said. "Then, we did a nice job knowing where he was on the floor. We had multiple help defenders rotating in to shut down his driving lanes.  Then, we didn't foul him.  We limited his overall efficiency.  Credit to him though.  He maintained his poise and didn't get frustrated by it.  I thought our defense this weekend as a whole was really sound and good."

Rudy Winters had an inefficient, team-high 16.  He was 5-of-15 from the floor. 

Columbus State shot 36 percent from the field (25-of-69) and 36.4 percent from deep (12-of-33).  In the first half, the Cougars drilled 7-of-16 threes, but were just 2-for-13 inside the three-point arc. 

As such, the Eagles outscored CSU in the paint 55-26.  The 55 points in the paint are the most for the Eagles this season. 

Carson-Newman also collected 16 points in transition to the Cougars four.

The Eagles smashed Columbus State on the glass, outrebounding CSU 42-25.  Even with the Eagles' hot-shooting night, Carson-Newman still snagged 13 offensive boards, converting 10 of them into 20 second chance points. 

Excluding turnovers, there were only 14 possessions where Carson-Newman attempted a shot that it failed to score. 

C-N dished out 29 assists on its 39 made baskets, two off the single-game school record set in 2011 with 31 helpers against Cincinnati Christian. 

"Guys were sharing it," Benson said. "In that run late, we doubled our assists.  The second half, man, that was what it was, guys were content to share it and make shots."

The Eagles round out a four-game home stand by opening conference play on Wednesday against Mars Hill.  Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. Pregame coverage starts at 7:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live. 

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