JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (21-6, 13-6 South Atlantic Conference) will honor four senior student athletes and one senior manager when it takes on Wingate (14-13, 11-8) in the final regular season game inside of Holt Fieldhouse Saturday at 4 p.m.
Carson-Newman will recognize players Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Josh Murray (Burlington, N.C.), Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.) and Taylor Hawkins (Madisonville, Tenn.) as well as student manager Danny "Diesel" Sanders.
"It's been an enjoyable run with these guys," head coach Chuck Benson said. "Obviously, we've got some more running to do with some postseason tournaments. I've enjoyed the relationships we've established both on the court and off it, and I have no doubt that these guys will be a part of this program and my life until the end of it."
Clark will look to put a bow on one of the most prolific career in Carson-Newman and South Atlantic Conference men's basketball history. 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 2,266 points for his career.
He is the South Atlantic Conference's second all-time leading scorer and third all-time in Carson-Newman history.
Clark needs 58 more points to catch Sean Barnette of Wingate for the SAC's career scoring record. At Clark's current scoring average this season (21.6 points per game), the senior is on pace to attain the marker two to three games from now. That would require a run to the SAC semifinals or a trip into the NCAA tournament if Carson-Newman lost its SAC quarterfinal game.
With 200 career steals, he is Carson-Newman's all-time leader for the category and sixth all-time in SAC history. He has made the second most field goals in league history at 698. He already leads the South Atlantic Conference in career free throws made, knocking down 619. Clark has made the sixth most threes in South Atlantic Conference history. He's buried 251 for his career. He needs six more to bypass Ish Sanders for Carson-Newman's career record.
As a junior, Clark was named an All-American and South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year. He is a member of the top 50 watch list for the Bevo Francis Award for the top small college basketball player in America. Clark has racked up 11 career South Atlantic Conference Player of the week awards in his career, including five in his senior season. Both those totals are league record.
Clark scored 54 points against Coker in his junior season to reset the South Atlantic Conference and Carson-Newman single-game scoring records.
Jones has reset both the Carson-Newman single-season and career records for double-doubles. Jones presently has 18 for his career and five as a senior. The Lawrenceville, Ga.-native transferred in from Valdosta State and has scored more than 1,000 points in his basketball career, including 716 points in the Orange and Blue.
Jones is tied with former Carson-Newman Eagle Ray Rutledge for the fifth highest career rebounding average in South Atlantic Conference history. He has tallied an 8.1 board per game average in his career.
His 18 rebounds against Newberry his junior season are the second most by a Carson-Newman player in the Division II era.
He earned South Atlantic Conference player of the week honors earlier this season after posting back-to-back double-doubles against Tusculum and Wingate.
Murray transferred into Carson-Newman from Jacksonville University and has blossomed his senior season at Mossy Creek. Known as Big Sexy among his teammates, the 6-9, 250-pound behemoth has turned into one of Carson-Newman's best shot blockers. His 40 blocks this year are the third most in a single season in C-N history. Murray has also set the Carson-Newman single-season record for dunks with 34 slams this season.
Finally, Hawkins has been a crucial reserve and "glue guy" for the Eagles for the past four years. Hawkins top game came against Brevard his sophomore year when he scored 10 points and drilled a trio of threes against the Tornados. He has scored 70 points in his Carson-Newman career with 53 rebounds.
"Their performances are a testament to their own talents and evolution as players from the time they got here," Benson said. "All of them would, in hindsight, would admit that they've done more here than they anticipated. I know Shaun never really expected to be a double-double machine. Charles, who would have expected that he would turn into the player that he's turned into and done it with supreme modesty. Josh was such a raw talent and had been waiting in the wings, now that he's got the chance to play he's capitalized. Then Taylor's eyes and ears bring so much to the table."
The quartet has put together four straight winning seasons, a SAC tournament championship and an NCAA tournament appearance with another likely on the way if the senior class can finish strong. They are a part of the third fastest team to win 20 games at Carson-Newman in school history.
Standing in the way of a happy senior day is the Wingate Bulldogs. Carson-Newman is 3-2 its last five senior day contests. Wingate has the only two wins, spoiling Marcellous Perez and Colin Crane's senior day in 2013, 63-52. The Bulldogs also put a kibosh on the festivities for Carson Brooks and Josh Rogers' farewell to Holt Fieldhouse in 2016 with an 81-60 win.
Oddly enough, Carson-Newman and Wingate aren't playing for much in the short term (the matchup has definitive implications for C-N making the regional tournament).
"I've always tried to be transparent with players to make sure that they really understood day-by-day, week-by-week and game-by-game what's at stake," Benson said. "Our guys understand that this game today can have ramifications and implications on the NCAA regional polls. A win solidifies our spot on gives us momentum toward an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. A loss, leaves our position in the hands of others. I expect to see a high-level performance from our guys because of that."
The outcome of Saturday's game has no bearing on the South Atlantic Conference tournament. The Eagles have already locked up the three seed and Wingate the four. Both teams will host a quarterfinal SAC tournament game on Feb. 28. All that's left is to determine their opponents, and it could be any one of four teams.
At present standing Lenoir-Rhyne sits in fifth place in the league with Saturday off and a half-game lead on three teams tied for sixth. Coker, Newberry and Anderson all have 8-11 records heading into Saturday.
Coker and Anderson play each other, Newberry welcomes Tusculum to Eleazer Arena for senior day.
A Newberry loss would mean that Carson-Newman would face the winner of the Coker – Anderson game. Lenoir-Rhyne would stay in fifth place and face Wingate because they own the tie break with Coker, via a 1-1 record with Wingate (Coker is 0-2), and with Anderson, thanks to a coin toss.
A Newberry win, coupled with a Coker win over Anderson would mean that the Eagles would get the Wolves. Coker would be the five-seed thanks to a 3-1 record against the Wolves and Bears. Newberry owns the tiebreaker over Lenoir-Rhyne thanks to a win over Carson-Newman.
Couple a Newberry win with an Anderson win over Coker and the Eagles would face Lenoir-Rhyne. Newberry would break the three-way tie with the Bears and Trojans thanks to its win over Carson-Newman, thus earning the five-seed. The coin toss would then come into play, giving the six-seed to Lenoir-Rhyne.
Carson-Newman is going for its first season sweep in the series with Wingate since the 2014-15 season.
The Eagles won the first meeting this year in bizarre fashion in overtime against the Bulldogs. Clark turned in one of the better performances in an overtime period in NCAA history as No. 20 Carson-Newman beat the breaks off Wingate in OT with an 81-66 triumph.
Clark scored 13 of his game-high 31 points in the overtime session to power C-N to the 15-point win. The 15-point OT win is the largest margin of victory in a South Atlantic Conference game that went to overtime in the last eight years.
The largest margin of victory in an OT game in NCAA Division II history belongs to Pfeiffer, who beat Belmont Abbey 72-50 on Dec. 8, 1960 with an extra session.
Clark's 13 points in overtime put him in the NCAA conversation for most points in an OT period. John Green of Barton holds that record when he scored 18 of the Bulldogs' 19 points in OT in a win over St. Andrew's on Feb. 5, 2004.
Tipoff between the Eagles and Bulldogs is set for 4 p.m. Coverage of the contest 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.