VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (16-3, 8-3 South Atlantic Conference) makes the short trek into the Blue Ridge Mountains vying to keep Mars Hill (2-16, 0-11 SAC) down with an 8 p.m. tipoff scheduled from Stanford Arena Wednesday evening.
Carson-Newman has won 10 of the last 11 meetings with Mars Hill. However, two of the last three contests in Stanford Arena have been tight. The Eagles rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to win there last year by five and clung to a 64-62 triumph three years ago.
"I think it'll be like it always is over there, a tough challenge," head coach Chuck Benson said. "Throw the records out. They are close by and there's a history between our teams. Regardless of the fact that they've struggled some, Vic has them playing hard and purposeful. We have to expect them to throw the hardest punch they can throw, then we have to throw our own punch back."
Even with the tight games of late in Stanford Arena, the Eagles haven't fallen on the road to the Lions since a 96-93 overtime loss in Chuck Benson's second year at the helm of the C-N men's basketball program on Feb. 15, 2012. That's a string of five straight wins for the Eagles on Mars Hill's home floor.
Mars Hill has lost 10 straight. The Lions' last win was Dec. 5 at Warren Wilson 101-92. The 10-game losing streak is the longest active skid in the Southeast Region and one of three active double-digit losing streaks nationwide. Concordia Portland has lost 14 straight while Chadron State has last 11 consecutively.
Mars Hill has only kept Lenoir-Rhyne and Wingate below 80 on the streak. It lost those two games 74-55 and 77-60, respectively. Furthermore, the Lions have been beaten by double-digits in all but one game on the streak, losing to basketball blueblood Kentucky Wesleyan 82-74 on Dec. 30.
The Lions rank last in the league in rebounding margin (-7.3), assists per game (11.4), turnovers per game (18.6), points allowed (92.5) and opponent's field goal percentage (49.0). Mars Hill's scoring defense ranks 300th out of 301 NCAA Division II teams.
The Lions are led by senior guard Bennett Wilson. He's averaging 12.1 points per game, but has poured in 19 a game over the Lions last four contests.
Freshman Austin Gilyard didn't play when the teams met back on Nov. 29, a 92-64 win for the Eagles, however, he's come on of late and is averaging 13.9 points per game. He's coming off a five-point effort in the Lions' 77-60 loss to Wingate; however, prior to that, Gilyard had chipped in 17.5 points per game in the previous four contests with a season-high 23 coming in a loss to top-five Queens.
"I really like his game," Benson said. "He's played very well the last three weeks. He's playing free, easy confident basketball and he's one we'll have to be careful with how we defend him."
Carson-Newman is looking to sweep the season series for a fifth time in the last six years.
The Eagles are coming off a 109-87 bruising of Newberry where the Eagles' reset the program's single-game assists record.
Carson-Newman's 34 assists against Newberry are the most in school history and the seventh most in a single-game in Division II this season
Meanwhile, the record book watch continues for Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.). Clark has made 566 free throws for his Carson-Newman career. He needs to make 30 more to catch Catawba's Helgi Magnusson (2003-2006) for the most free throws made in a career in South Atlantic Conference history.
Clark has four games this season where he has knocked down double-digit free thows. He's fourth in the country this season with 122 made freebies this year.
"We're all aware of all that," Benson said. "But our focus and his focus are our team objectives and goals. We're trying to dominate those moments one day at a time. We do that, all those nice little extra things will come Charles' way."
Clark also needs 48 points to move into second on the SAC's all-time scoring list.
Tipoff between the Eagles and Lions is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday night. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network begins at 7:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.