VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (16-4, 8-4 South Atlantic Conference) makes the 306-mile jaunt deep into the heart of the Palmetto State to tussle with high-octane Coker (8-11, 5-6 SAC) Saturday at 4 p.m. inside the DeLoach Center.
The Eagles' ability to be successful against the Cobras will not only be defined based on how they handle the Cobras' pressure defense, but also how they work to overcome the heartbreaking loss to Mars Hill on Wednesday where a last-second technical turned the tide in the Lions' favor.
"This situation that occurred in our last game is one of those invaluable teaching moments for the players, the staff, all of us," head coach Chuck Benson said. "All we're trying to focus on right now is what we can control in the moment. That moment's our practice, preparation and scouting, plus what we can do in regards to Coker. We take our lessons and move forward."
Carson-Newman hasn't lost back-to-back games in exactly one calendar year. The Eagles dropped back-to-back contests in the final week of January last year to Queens and Lincoln Memorial.
Coker hasn't beaten Carson-Newman in six tries, last collecting a 75-64 win over the Eagles in Hartsville. Carson-Newman's last two games in Hartsville have been decided by seven and six points, respectively.
Coker has turned teams over the 15th most times in the country while producing the 11th most steals nationally.
"They identify as an aggressive, relentless, pressure defense. That's the cornerstone of their program, coupled with rebounding," Benson said. "They hope that their defense generates offense. We just have to have the poise and ball skills to deal with that and make great decisions in those situations."
Coker has been a different team at home than on the road. Away from Hartsville, Coker is 1-7, the lone win coming in overtime at Tusculum. Inside the DeLoach Center, Coker is 6-3. The Cobras average nearly 10 points per game more at home. The Cobras have only lost to Queens, Wingate and Emmanuel at home.
Strangely enough the difference in venues is primarily at the foul line. Coker's shooting numbers from the field and from the three are virtually identical home and away. However, the Cobras knock down 18 free throws a game on a 72 percent clip at home, and 11 free throws a game at a 61 percent clip on the road.
Donte Samuels leads Coker with 15.7 points per game, a number that improves to 16.5 points per game exclusively including South Atlantic Conference play.
"He's mastered the long two," Benson said. "The guy is an incredible 15 to 18-foot jump shooter. He's able to put it on the floor and get to the rim. This year, he's added in a three-point shot. He's elite. I hope we can be stingy enough defensively to make them take tough shots from wherever they take them."
Meanwhile, Carson-Newman has Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.). Clark has exploded on the Cobras of late. Clark is averaging 39 points per game against Coker over his last three contests with the Cobras, including a SAC and school record 54 points in the meeting in Holt Fieldhouse last year.
He has averaged 24 points per game over eight games in his career against Coker. He has also done it incredibly efficiently as well, shooting 57 percent from the field and 54 percent from three.
However, Clark had a 29-game double-digit scoring streak snapped at Mars Hill. The last time Clark was limited to less than 10 points was at Queens last year on Jan. 28. Clark responded to that game with 20-point scoring efforts in seven of his next eight games and triple-doubles in three of those contests.
Tipoff from the DeLoach Center is set for 4 p.m. Saturday. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 3:45 p.m. with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.