VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (20-5, 12-5 South Atlantic Conference) takes on one of the hottest teams in the South Atlantic Conference when it travels to Salisbury, N.C. to take on the Catawba College Catawba Indians (10-13, 6-11) from Goodman Gym Saturday at 4 p.m.
Catawba has won four straight games, the third longest winning streak in the league behind top-ranked Lincoln Memorial and second-ranked Queens. After a 3-9 start, and an 0-7 start in league play beset by a litany of injuries, Catawba has responded in the second semester and is in position to make the SAC tournament after dwelling in the cellar of the league standings for much of the year.
"First time around, they were playing a lot of inexperienced players because of injury," head coach Chuck Benson said. "Those kids have gotten a lot more experience since we've played them. They've evolved and developed a lot more poise. We're catching them at a time when they're playing really well."
Carson-Newman won the first meeting 101-75 behind a 30-point shooting clinic from Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.). He matched his career high for threes made in a game back on Jan. 6 with seven.
Clark, barring a matchup in the South Atlantic Conference tournament, could be going head-to-head with the man that beat him his freshman season for the South Atlantic Conference's freshman of the year honor – Jerrin Morrison.
Morrison and Clark are battling it out for the SAC's scoring crown this year. Morrison averages 21.7 points per game to lead the league while Clark sits in second with 21.3 points per game.
Morrison has been especially hot of late, scoring at least 22 in seven of the Indians' last nine games.
"He is an elite offensive player, and he's had a level of consistency all the way through," Benson said. "The thing I've been most impressed with from when we played earlier was his leadership. He had a level of patience when he could have been frustrated with injury that cost them early. He kept poise and mentored those freshmen along. It's a testament to his character and his position within their program."
Meanwhile, Clark broke past the 2,200-point threshold with his 14th career 30-point effort and the fifth of his senior year against Tusculum. He has 2,220 points for his career. He is the South Atlantic Conference's second all-time leading scorer.
Clark needs 104 more points to catch Sean Barnette of Wingate for the SAC's career scoring record. At Clark's current scoring average this season (21.3 points per game), the senior is on pace to attain the marker five to six 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.
Discounting Carson-Newman's 101-75 win over Catawba earlier this year, the series of late between Carson-Newman and Catawba has been incredibly tight. C-N leads on aggregate by seven points, 567-559 over the nine meetings before the Eagles' win this season.
Carson-Newman has a 6-4 lead in the series over the last 10 meetings. Nine of the last 10 meetings have been decided by seven points or less.
In fact, all but two of the last 13 meetings have been decided by less than 10 points
The road team hasn't won in this series since 2013-14 when Carson-Newman won at Catawba in overtime 62-60. That was also the last time C-N swept the season series with the Indians.
Catawba downed Carson-Newman on a Rakeem Brown jumper with eight seconds left in Goodman Gym last year. The one-point loss arguably kept Carson-Newman out of last year's NCAA tournament.
"They play elite defense and make it tough," Benson said. "We've not be able to figure out a way to consistently deal with their defensive pressure. Hopefully our guys have a lot of motivation to go over there and figure out a way. I'm glad that our guys are hungry and driven at this time of the year."
Tipoff between the Eagles and Indians is set for 4 p.m. Saturday. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network begins at 3:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.