VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Third-seeded Carson-Newman (22-6) begins its quest for a fourth South Atlantic Conference Tournament Championship with an 8 p.m. matchup with the Newberry Wolves (15-13) Wednesday inside of Holt Fieldhouse.
Carson-Newman and Newberry split the regular season series, with the Wolves winning 75-70 in Eleazer Arena and Carson-Newman touting a 109-87 win in Holt Fieldhouse in January in a game in which C-N reset the single-game program record for assists with 34.
"I know we split with them in the regular season, they kicked out tails down there," head coach Chuck Benson said. "This is one of those style makes the fight kinda deals. You know they're going to put up a bunch of threes. If they're making them, you've got problems. We're expecting their best punch because they've got some quality senior who know this SAC tournament is their path to the NCAA tournament."
This is just the third time that Carson-Newman has made the SAC tournament as a three seed. In fact, it is the least frequent seed C-N has drawn in the tournament. The Eagles last time as a three didn't go so well. In 2008, Mars Hill down the Eagles 78-76 in the quarterfinals. That game, and a 2013 loss to Coker, are the only times in SAC tournament history that Carson-Newman didn't advance to the semifinals as a higher seed.
With the matchup, Newberry will move even with Catawba, Wingate and Lenoir-Rhyne as the Eagles' most frequent SAC tournament foe with the game. The Eagles have played all of those teams six times in the league tournament.
Carson-Newman is a perfect 5-0 in the tournament against the Wolves; they are the only team that C-N is unbeaten against in SAC tournament history (technically Carson-Newman is also unbeaten in tournament play against Queens and Anderson, but C-N has also never played those teams).
The Eagles beat Newberry last year in the SAC quarterfinals in a four versus five matchup inside of Holt Fieldhouse 96-74. Carson-Newman beat the Wolves in the 2015 semis en route to a SAC title. The other three times came in the quarters. Twice those matchups were one versus eight, the other was a four versus five matchup.
The game will see the record book watch continue for senior guard and All-America candidate Charles Clark. Clark has 2,289 points for his career. He is the South Atlantic Conference's second all-time leading scorer. Clark needs 35 more points to catch Sean Barnette of Wingate for the SAC's career scoring record.
"On any given night, he can drop 30 to 40 points," Benson said. "I'm just hoping we have enough games left to play that he's able to get to that incredible number. I've tried to prod him on it here recently, but he really wants to deflect the conversation elsewhere. He truly is a consummate team guy. The outcome and team success means more to him than the individual honor. I've watched him be that way for four years now."
Clark has scored at least 35 points once this season, when he dropped 37 on Coker, and four times in his career. He had a record-smashing 54-point outing against the Cobras as a junior, the only time that year he scored 35 or more.
As a sophomore, he scored 36 against Lincoln Memorial and 39 against Mars Hill.
Clark does have a pair of 30-point games to his name in his career against Newberry. He scored 33 against the Wolves in the SAC semifinals as a freshman, earning a Frosty Award for Male Performance of the Year over baseball player Vince Apicella in the process. He scored 30 on Newberry on the road as a sophomore.
Clark also needs to make four more three pointers to becoming the all-time leader for made threes in Carson-Newman men's basketball history. He's made 252, three away from tying Ish Sanders' school record and four away from claiming it all himself.
The senior has knocked down at least four threes in a game eight times this season; however, he's only done it twice since the calendar flipped over to 2018. Clark knocked down seven against Catawba and four two games ago at Lincoln Memorial.
While Clark has been boundlessly successful in his career, Shaun Jones (Lawrenceville, Ga.) has performed at an ultra-high level against the Wolves in his career. Jones has averaged 16.4 points per game against the Wolves in his career across five games.
The more impressive not is how efficient he has been. Jones has made 39 of the 46 shots he's taken in his career against Newberry. That is good for a stupefying 84.8 percent shooting clip.
As a junior, he matched the SAC single-game record for most field goals taken without missing against the Wolves when he went 12-for-12 from the field.
The Eagles will have to contend with a Newberry team that has won three consecutive. Rob Valentine is the league's third leading scorer and has put together double-digit scoring efforts in all of Newberry's games this year except a win over Warren Wilson.
Valentine enters the league tournament fresh off a 33-point effort in a win over Tusculum.
"He's got NBA plus range with a quick trigger," Benson said. "He has the ultimate greenlight and is playing confidently. He's one of many, but he's one you have to find early and force tough twos. But it's not just Valentine. They have so many, so you have to defend their style."
Tipoff between the Eagles and Wolves is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday. Pregame 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 cneagles.com/live.