JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (19-5, 11-5 South Atlantic Conference) can clinch home-court advantage in the first round of the South Atlantic Conference Tournament Championships with a win Wednesday night over Tusculum (6-17, 4-12 SAC) inside of Holt Fieldhouse.
The Eagles have a three-game lead on fifth place Coker and a season-sweep in hand over the Cobras, guaranteeing a tiebreak victory and a higher seed over Coker. A win for the Eagles and a Wingate loss to Coker and Carson-Newman could all but lock up the three seed in the league tournament.
Tusculum also has SAC tournament implications on the line. The Pioneers sit a game back of the final spot for the league tournament. Catawba and Anderson are tied for eighth with 5-11 records. The Pioneers split the season series with the Indians and have a one-point loss in hand to the Trojans with a game still to play at AU.
"We've stressed to our guys that this is a rivalry game and there's a lot of juice to this one," head coach Chuck Benson said. "We have to perform at a high level. Tusculum's playing to get in the tournament, we're playing to try to get home court advantage. I think our guys will be motivated especially after the loss in our last game to Queens."
Carson-Newman enters the contest off an 82-66 loss to No. 2 Queens Saturday. The Eagles will look to put that game behind them, C-N hasn't lost back-to-back games all year.
"I think nobody, from coaches down through players, likes the taste of losing," Benson said. "Keep on mind our losses, three of them, have been to the number one and two teams in the country. We got beat at Newberry, and whatever happened at Mars Hill happened. Our kids just don't like that feeling, and they've been good about bouncing back."
So far this season, Carson-Newman has rebounded ably. Carson-Newman has scored at least 90 points following three of their previous four defeats. The one they didn't, they scored an 81-65 win at Anderson.
Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) became the South Atlantic Conference's all-time leader in career made free throws in the Eagles' loss to Queens Saturday. Clark has 597 career made freebies for his career, one more than Catawba's Helgi Magnusson.
Clark is 12 points away from the 2,200-point threshold for his career. He is the South Atlantic Conference's second all-time leading scorer. Clark needs 136 more points to catch Sean Barnette of Wingate for the SAC's career scoring record. At Clark's current scoring average this season (20.9 points per game), the senior is on pace to attain the marker six to seven games from now. That would require a run to the SAC title game or a trip into the NCAA Sweet 16 if Carson-Newman lost its SAC quarterfinal game.
Carson-Newman is looking for a 20-win season for the first time since 2012-13. The Eagles are looking for their fifth 20-win campaign of 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 Tusculum would mark the third fastest team to 20 wins at Carson-Newman. The 2001-02 team made it in 24 games. 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.
The Eagles are looking to win four straight against the Pioneers for the first time since a run from 2012-2014. Tusculum has won two of the last three games the team's played in Holt Fieldhouse and 11 of the last 15. Carson-Newman is trying to win back-to-back games at home against Tusculum for the first time since the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.
The Pioneers have been struggling of late. Tusculum has lost six of its last seven games. However, with the exception to blowout losses to the top two teams in the country, LMU and Queens, all off the Pioneers other losses have been by single digits.
Tipoff between the Eagles and Tusculum is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network begins at 8:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WFPT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.