VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (13-2, 5-2 South Atlantic Conference) makes the short jaunt along 11-E to tangle with Tusculum (4-10, 2-5 SAC) in one of the program's longest-standing rivalry games Wednesday at 8 p.m. from Pioneer Arena.
Carson-Newman leads the all-time series 81-30 going into the 112th meeting between the programs since the 1959-60 season.
The Eagles will face off against first-year head coach Nick Pasqua and a Tusculum team that has made its mark as one of the top three-point shooting teams in the country.
The Pioneers drill 11.6 threes per game. In fact, the Pioneers have hit double-digit triples in all but two games this year (losses to Lee and Queens). Tusculum's best effort from three-point land came inside Holt Fieldhouse earlier this year when it went 18-for-33 in an 86-85 triumph over Columbus State in a neutral site game on the Eagles' home floor.
"You want to make sure that you impact the three-point attempts," head coach Chuck Benson said. "I don't think we can limit them because they're so good. Hopefully we can force them to take tougher, more contested three-pointers."
The contest has been declared "Orange Crush" with the first 500 Tusculum fans receiving a free t-shirt upon admission to the game.
Benson said there's something to playing in front of a charged crowd.
"It's exciting," Benson said. "A lot of times you think a great atmosphere can bolster one team. In actuality, it can help both teams. We'd rather it be that kind of environment than to have a bunch of no-shows. We go in extra fired up because we look at it as a plus for the game of basketball in East Tennessee."
Tusculum is trying to win its first game at home against Carson-Newman since 2013-14. The Pioneers won 71-64 on Jan. 22 that year
To do so, they'll have to bottle up reigning SAC Player of the Week Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.). Clark is averaging 26.5 points per game against the Pioneers since his sophomore season. He has a pair of 30-point performances to his name against Tusculum. The Pioneers are in good company with Lincoln Memorial, Newberry and Coker as programs that have seen Clark go off for 30 points on them on multiple occasions.
Clark has put up 30 points in back-to-back contests for the second time in his career (he's never scored 30 in three straight games). Clark is averaging 24 points per game over the Eagles' last five games on 52 percent shooting and 46 percent shooting from long range.
Clark needs 20 more points to move into third place on the South Atlantic Conference's all-time scoring list. He enters the game with 2,019. LMU's Luquon Choice currently sits in third with 2,039 career points. Clark also needs 15 points to catch Steve Adams for third on Carson-Newman's career scoring list.
Clark and the Eagles' three other senior have Carson-Newman on the cusp of its second five-game win streak of the season.
"We have veteran guys that know how to embrace the grind," Benson said. "We continue to remind them what's in that very moment before them and how to embrace it. We just hope our veteran status and our excitement based one what's occurred so far, give us a bit of an edge whenever we take the court."
The game features a pair of disciples of King head coach George Pitts. Carson-Newman assistant Shane Williams coached under Pitts for a couple years at King and played for him in high school before joining Chuck Benson at Carson-Newman.
Tusculum's first-year head coach Nick Pasqua. Pasqua served the last nine years on the coaching staff at King University, including the last six seasons as associate head coach. During his tenure at the Bristol, Tennessee school the Tornado posted a 192-82 record, including six 20-win campaigns and five national postseason appearances.
Much like the Tornado, the Pioneers have multiple three-point threats. UTC transfer Peyton Woods, Trevecca Nazarene transfer Donovan Donaldson Ronnie Baylark and Zach Hartle all knock down at least 36.5 percent of their threes. The quartet also averages a combined 8.14 threes per game.
"He's gone in a direction that makes sense with instant turnaround with a bunch of Division I transfers," Benson said. "They have more experience and know-how. I think they've improved the roster with talent. We'll catch them at a time where both teams are still learning a little bit about themselves."
Tipoff between the Eagles and Pioneers is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday night. Pregame coverage starts at 7:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on the Eagle Sports Network on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.