Late first-half spurt carries No. 2 Queens over No. 24 Carson-Newman

VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview

VIDEO: Shaun Jones Interview

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – No. 24 Carson-Newman (19-5, 11-5 South Atlantic Conference) and No. 2 Queens (23-1, 15-1 SAC) battled to a stalemate for 36 minutes and 30 seconds, the other 3:30, squarely belonged to the second-ranked team in the country. 

Queens utilized a 13-0 run to close the half, the first 10 points of which came in a mere 65 seconds to thwart the Eagles 82-66 Saturday evening inside Holt Fieldhouse.

The run came mere moments after Mason Bates (Cookeville, Tenn.) exited the game with a hand injury.

"I think one of the things that impacted us was the fact that they found shots in transition in that span and they got on the glass," head coach Chuck Benson said. "I thought a big thing that happened was Mason getting hurt.  He was playing great basketball and then we lose him to a fluke fall where he dislocates his finger.  I think his going down and their transition game impacted us."

The run started with a reverse layup from Shaun Willet and a pair of free throws from Todd Withers. The 10-0 spurt concluded 40 seconds later with back-to-back triples from Mike Davis and Jalin Alexander.  Alexander was the primary match that lit the powder keg.  The senior sharpshooter scored nine of his game-high 14 points for the Royals in the final 3:30 of the first half. 

Both teams went on runs in the second half with the Royals stretching the advantage to 24 off an 8-0 run and the Eagles countering that to get it back down to 14 with a 14-2 spurt.  However, the Royals carried a double-digit advantage for the entirety of the second half. 

The Royals kept the Eagles at bay with a pervasive and persistent defense that in particular befuddled the Eagles' normally capable star shooters. 

Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) and Malik Abraham (Snellville, Ga.) combined to go 6-for-26 from the floor and 3-for-14 from beyond the arc.  Clark went 2-for-11 while Abraham was 4-for-15.  They each finished with 10 points.  Clark did make his 597th career free throw, which moved him past Catawba's Helgi Magnusson and into the top spot on the South Atlantic Conference's career list for made free throws. 

"Malik just had an off night," Benson said. "It was obvious that they were not using the same strategy on him that they were on Charles.  Malik just didn't make shots and that happens sometimes. We don't ever want him to stop shooting because he is elite from long range.

"The problem was the way they defended Charles. The truth is that he had fast, quick guys that denied and face guarded him the entire game.  He had trouble getting separation.  He had trouble getting looks.  We tried some things to get him separation and it wasn't very effective.  He was battling an ankle sprain himself, and that certainly didn't help.  The truth of the matter is that Queens had a great strategy. I give credit to their coaching staff and their players, they realized they needed to control Bird as best they could, and they did an elite job at it."

Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.) led Carson-Newman in scoring with 14 points.  He came within two rebounds of his 18th career double-double.  Jones was 7-for-12 from the floor. 

Queens had six players finish in double figures, led by Alexander and Mike Davis who each had 14.  Lewis Diankulu, Ike Agusi and Shaun Willett all finished with 11.  Todd Withers rounded out the sextet of double-digit scorers with 10. 

The Royals shot 48.4 percent from the floor for the game, down from their 55 percent tally from the first meeting this year.  Queens made tough shot after tough shot in the second half.  In particular, Mike Davis hit a twisting, contorted three at one point as the shot clock expired.  Ike Agusi also hit a litany of tough twisting runners from the middle of the lane. 

"At this point, we have to take some things away from this game because I have a distinct feeling that we'll see them again down the road," Benson said. "I felt like we defended them better today than we did earlier this year.  Second half, their shot-making ability was crazy."

The contest was a strange one too in that Carson-Newman did things that normally are good markers for Eagle victories.  Carson-Newman suffered its first loss at home this season when outrebounding an opponent, when scoring more second chance points than their opponent, and when scoring more fast break points than their opponent. 

Carson-Newman outrebounded Queens 39-34.  The Royals entered the game with a +10 margin on the boards and the eighth best rebounding margin in the country. 

"There are two things that have become very clear," Benson said. "You have two teams in this league in LMU and Queens, that from a talent standpoint, are as good as you can be at this level.  More importantly, from a schematic standpoint, they are elite defensively.  We're good defensively.  We're in the top three in most defensive categories in this league.  But there is a major gulf between second and third.  Queens has athleticism in every spot, they play without fouling and are incredibly physical.  The other thing to remember, they have seven seniors, and seven seniors who know how to win a lot."

Carson-Newman returns to action on Valentine's Day with a contest against rival Tusculum.  Tipoff with the Pioneers is set for 8 p.m.  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   

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