JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – For the second time this season, No. 24 Carson-Newman (19-4, 11-4 South Atlantic Conference) matches wits with a nationally-ranked foe inside Holt Fieldhouse.
No. 2 Queens (22-1, 14-1 SAC) comes to Mossy Creek riding a six-game winning streak, tied for the second longest in the Southeast Region, and looking to sweep the season series for a third straight season with the Eagles.
The Royals used a 19-2 second-half run to triumph over Wingate for a sextet of consecutive wins Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Eagles have had a rare seven-day break between games following last Saturday's 89-79 overtime win over Lenoir-Rhyne.
"We gave our guys an extended break physically, mentally and emotionally," head coach Chuck Benson said. "Typically, we don't have that opportunity. We've tried to take advantage of that. I think our guys couldn't be better in terms of their physical and mental health going into this game. We feel fresh and excited."
This is the fourth meeting for Carson-Newman all-time to feature two ranked teams. The Eagles are 1-2 in such meetings, but 0-2 in Holt Fieldhouse. The losses are to Shaw (2002) and Lincoln Memorial (2018). The win came against Wingate (2002) in the SAC title game.
Chuck Benson is on the verge of winning his 100th South Atlantic Conference game. He looks to join LMU's Josh Schertz, Wingate's Brian Good, Presbyterian's Gregg Nibert, Lenoir-Rhyne's John Lentz, Catawba's Jim Baker and former C-N coach Dale Clayton as the only coaches in league history in triple digits for victories.
At the same time, Carson-Newman is looking for a 20-win season for the first time since 2012-13. The Eagles can get to the 20-win plateau for the fifth time in the Division II era. Benson is looking for his sixth career 20-win effort as a coach. He had four at Martin Methodist and has one at Carson-Newman.
A win against Queens would tie this year's club with the 2001-02 team for the second fastest Eagle team to 20 wins. That year C-N collected its 20th win in game 24 against Catawba 71-67. The 1982-83, 1963-64, 1961- 62 and 1960-61 teams are all-tied for the fastest trips to 20 wins. All four teams completed it in 23 games.
To get there, the Eagles will have to contend with a highly talented Queens club. The Royals have the league's top scoring defense, allowing 67.9 points per game at a 40.5 percent clip (the second best field goal percentage allowed in the conference).
Carson-Newman scored 81 points in their 11-point loss to the Royals back in the December. The 81 points are the most that any team has scored in regulation against the Royals (Catawba scored 86 in a three-point overtime loss). The Eagles are also one of four teams to shoot better than 48 percent from the floor against the Royals.
Offensively, the Royals are no slouch either. While they rank third in the conference in offensive efficiency, their 50.7 shooting clip is eighth in the country. The Royals average 84.2 points per game, the fourth best figure in the SAC.
"There's no simple, easy answer to how to slow them down," Benson said. "They have so many weapons who are so versatile offensively and defensively. You can take away a first or second options, but options three through nine are pretty darn good too. You're not going to catch every raindrop, so we have to maintain poise when the rain does fall."
Queens arguably has the greatest scoring balance of any team in the league. Todd Withers is a nightly double-double threat and leads the Royals in scoring with a shade over 14 points per game.
Withers is the 17th-leading scorer in the league. Every team in the league, save Mars Hill, has a leading scorer that averages more points than Withers. However, the Royals have what a lot of other teams don't have, a bunch of other guys who can score with consistency and efficiency.
Six players for the Royals average at least eight points per game and seven average at least six a contest. Every one of those players shoots at least 40 percent from the field and five of them fire away at least at a 45 percent clip.
Carson-Newman is the only other team that can make a similar claim. The Eagles have six players who all average at least nine points per game.
"They've got a nice combination of length, athleticism and size," Benson said. "They're one of the best rebounding teams in the country. They pressure and turn teams over. They control tempo. They've got a nice solid scheme. Credit goes to Coach Bart Lundy, their staff and their players for how they've executed this season. No doubt they'll have their A game for Saturday."
Charles Clark needs to make four more free throws to pass Catawba's Helgi Magnusson for the most made free throws in a career in South Atlantic Conference history. Clark has 592 career makes, Magnusson made 596 in his career for Catawba.
Tipoff between the Eagles and Royals is set for 4 p.m. Saturday. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 3:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain County 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.