DANCING! Eagles return to NCAA tournament

DANCING! Eagles return to NCAA tournament

VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview

VIDEO: Charles Clark Interview

VIDEO: C-N Watch Party

INDIANAPOLIS – For the third time in five years, Carson-Newman men's basketball has made the NCAA tournament. The NCAA announced its pairings for the Division II national tournament with a selection show late Sunday night. 

The Eagles enter the fray for the Southeast regional as a five seed, the highest Carson-Newman has been seeded under head men's basketball coach Chuck Benson and the second highest seed for the Eagles in their five NCAA tournament trips all-time. 

"I want to give a lot of credit to the players and our staff for their investment and time this year," Benson said. "The way we performed consistently positioned us for this at-large bid.  We couldn't get the automatic qualifier, but an at-large is somewhat sweeter because it means you put together four solid months of good performances.  I'm proud of our guys and hope we can maximize this opportunity."

All games for the regional tournament will be played in Harrogate, Tenn. at Lincoln Memorial's, the top seed and host institution, Tex Turner Arena. 

Carson-Newman draws Clayton State.  The Lakers lost in the Peach Belt title game to UNC Pembroke 70-60.  Clayton State finished the regular season 23-6. 

Carson-Newman is 1-4 all-time in NCAA tournament games.  The Eagles are 33-18 in postseason play dating back to Carson-Newman's prolific NAIA tournament days.

The Eagles and Clayton State have met twice on the hardwood and done so recently.  Clayton State won an ugly 62-58 game in overtime in December of 2014 before the Eagles cranked up an 83-66 win a year later in Holt Fieldhouse.

C-N will be looking for its first NCAA tournament win in 16 years.  The Eagles won in the round of 32 in 2002 77-66 over Johnson C. Smith behind 21 points from former All-American Kyle Gribble and a 17-point, 12-rebound double-double from Dustin Edwards.

The Eagles bowed out in the Sweet 16 that year to Shaw and future NBA player Ronald "Flip" Murray who scored 38 points to send the Bears to the Elite 8. 

Carson-Newman's senior class has already been to one NCAA tournament.  Charles Clark (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Taylor Hawkins (Madisonville, Tenn.) and redshirt junior Mason Bates (Cookeville, Tenn.) were all a member of the seventh-seeded Eagle team that fell to Montevallo 74-69 in the opening round.  The Eagles led by 11 in that game before an injury to all-region forward Carson Brooks turned the tide in favor of the Falcons to pick up the five-point win. 

Clark had 27 points in that game for the Eagles.

"We worked hard to get here," Clark said. "We knew going into this year it would be a challenging year.  We worked hard from the beginning and I feel like we earned this."

Tipoff between the Eagles and Lakers is set for 8 p.m.  Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network will begin at 7:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live. 

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