HARROGATE, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (23-8) led for nearly 30 minutes, but No. 25 Clayton State used a 12-3 run late in the second half to be ahead at the final horn and take a 75-69 win over the Eagles in the opening round of the NCAA tournament Saturday night at Tex Turner Arena.
The loss ends the fifth-seeded Eagles season. After losing to Queens in the SAC semifinals, the Eagles lose back-to-back games for the first time all season.
"I thought we finished the first half, and showed in the first half that we had a level of confidence and poise," head coach Chuck Benson said. "In the second half, we performed at a low level, and didn't take care of the basketball. Leadership was nonexistent, and when the going got tough, we didn't show much of a fight."
Carson-Newman turned it over 16 times to Clayton State's seven and the Lakers outscored the Eagles 24-5 in points off turnovers.
The Eagles led 55-49 with 11:49 to play following a pair of Malik Abraham (Snellville, Ga.) free throws before Clayton State began to chip away.
The bulk of the comeback came on a 12-3 run that started with a Jaelyn Taylor layup to pull Clayton State within two and finished with the Lakers up six, 69-63 with 3:03 to play following a Justin Tuckson corner three.
"We turned it over, we lost defensive assignments and had poor execution offensively," Benson said. "I'd like to say I knew it was one thing in that span, but I don't. It seems our players didn't learn a lesson from the semifinal loss to Queens. We seemed flat and like we were going through the motions. I don't know why in those situations, we lost the plot."
Carson-Newman out-shot Clayton State 50 percent to 46 percent, and buried 53 percent of their threes. The Eagles outrebounded the Lakers 38-29.
The loss ends Charles Clark's (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) storied career. He finishes his career with 2,339 career points, the most in South Atlantic Conference history and the third most in C-N history.
Clark had 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting.
"He's had an incredible, four-year career and demonstration," Benson said. "Tonight doesn't define the career, he's had. He's been elite and irreplaceable. We'll have our hands full trying to fill that vacuum. He's been a major contributor on multiple levels to the success we've had these last four years."
Grant Teichmann (Brentwood, Tenn.) led the Eagles with 16 points. He was an efficient and effective, making 7-of-11 shots.
Clayton State had five plyers finish in double figures, led by Tuckson and Taylor's 13.
For offseason news on Carson-Newman men's basketball, follow @cnathletics and @cn_hoops on Twitter.