VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
VIDEO: Mason Bates Interview
VIDEO: Charles Clark Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (20-5, 12-5 South Atlantic Conference) got a combined 79 points from Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Mason Bates (Cookeville, Tenn.) and Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.) and took a 112-103 victory from Tusculum (6-18, 4-13 SAC) in a game bereft of defense Wednesday night at Holt Fieldhouse.
The win locks up a first-round home game for the Eagles in the South Atlantic Conference tournament. Another Eagle win or Wingate loss and Carson-Newman will officially clinch the three seed (C-N plays Wingate in the regular season finale on Feb. 24).
The victory also gets Carson-Newman to 20 wins for the fifth time since the program became a Division II institution. It's the second fastest path to 20 wins for Carson-Newman since moving to Division II and the third fastest in school history.
The Eagles got to 20 wins without much of a display of defense. Carson-Newman shot 56 percent from the field for the game and 63 percent in the second half. The Pioneers fired it in at a 48 percent clip for the game and shot 55 percent in the second stanza.
"There's one thing about this evening, you had two utterly horrific displays of defense," head coach Chuck Benson said. "A combined 215 points in the gym tonight, but we outscored them. We did some things we normally wouldn't do because of concern of their shot-making ability. We were willing to concede some high percentage shots at the rim to not see threes go in, it worked out for us."
The Eagles' concession of the rim paid off. Tusculum was 11-for-36 (30.6 percent) from beyond the arc and just 3-of-15 in the second half.
However, while the Eagles' defense wasn't at its best. Clark, Bates and Jones hummed along. Clark went for 32, the fifth 30-point game of his senior season and the 14th of his career, and was mind-numbingly efficient in doing so. Clark was 10-for-12 from the field, 1-for-2 from three and 11-for-11 from the line. He bypassed the 2,200-point barrier and knocked down his 600th career free throw in the win.
Meanwhile, Bates reset his career high with 26 points on 6-of-12 shooting. He also reset his career highs for free throws made and attempted, knocking down 12-of-14. He flirted with a triple-double on Valentine's day with seven boards and six assists.
Then, Jones added in 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting. He also matched his career high with five assists.
"Between Charles, Mason and Shaun, it was incredible," Benson said. "They put points on the board and were efficient doing it. This win though, is so weird though because the defense was such a tragedy that it leaves you with a sweet and sour taste in your mouth that it's difficult to digest."
The Eagles and Pioneers were deadlocked at 45 entering the halftime lockerroom.
Carson-Newman jumped out of the gates in the second half on a 12-2 run before Tusculum slowly but surely whittled away at Carson-Newman's advantage. The Pioneers grabbed their first lead of the game, 69-68 with 12:26 to play on a layup by Elon Smallwood that capped a 6-0 run.
They then built their biggest lead of the day 80-76 off a Jackie Davis three from the right wing with 8:59 to go. That trey ball headlined a 7-0 spurt.
However, Carson-Newman immediately countered. The Eagles rattled off the next 11, with a quartet of Bates free throws and a fast break layup from Clark capping the run and sending Carson-Newman ahead 89-82 with 6:22 to play.
Two minutes later and the Eagles were up double figures.
"I think one of the biggest advantages we have right now is that we have a veteran squad," Benson said. "I think our guys know how to finish these games out right now. Nick's are still learning that. He's doing an incredible job and I think he's going to be on his way to building a powerhouse there. That's going to make these games so much tougher when we play them."
Carson-Newman owned the glass, outrebounding the Pioneers 43-34. The Eagles also distributed the ball well, dolling out 24 assists – the ninth time this season C-N has handed out at least 20 assists.
Tusculum had five players finish in double figures. Donovan Donaldson led TC with 23 points and five assists. Elon Smallwood chipped in an efficient 18 on 8-of-10 shooting. DeShaunte' Smith added 17, while Ronnie Baylark and Peyton Woods had 13 and 11, respectively.
The Eagles hit the road for two games, starting with a jaunt to Salisbury, N.C. for a matchup with the Catawba College Catawba Indians at 4 p.m. Saturday. Pregame coverage begins at 3:45 on the Eagle Sports Network with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.