VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (2-0) cranks open play inside of Holt Fieldhouse by welcoming in one of the eight teams to participate in last season's NCAA Southeast Regional.
The Eagles welcome Lees-McRae (0-2) to the friendly confines for a 7 p.m. tipoff Wednesday.
Carson-Newman has won three straight home games and 20 of its last 22 contests played inside of Holt Fieldhouse.
"Our entire preseason schedule was away from here," head coach Chuck Benson said. "Our opening weekend was away from here. Just a chance to be at home, we're excited about that and we're excited to open up Holt Fieldhouse with a team in Lees-McRae that made the NCAA tournament and received votes in the first NABC poll. That's a fantastic challenge to start here with."
The 2017-18 Bobcats broke program records for wins (23), points scored (2,863), scoring average (89.5), field goals made (932), three-pointers made (342), three-point field goal percentage (.401), free throws made (657), free throws attempted (896), assists (437), blocked shots (118) and blocks per game (3.7). The Bobcats were receiving votes in the NABC poll in the poll's initial iteration in spite of losing 10 seniors from last year's team.
However, this year's iteration of the Bearcats is off to an 0-2 start. Lees-McRae dropped games to Columbus State, 91-84, and Flagler, 81-68, to open the season. The Bearcats are allowing 86 points per game, a figure that belies the nature of their defense.
"They have such a large defensive package," Benson said. "These guys play man, variations of man, zone, variations of zone; they press, they trap. They want to create a really chaotic situation. It requires really heady guard play by teams they go up against. Fortunately, we've got some guys that are pretty solid who I think are capable of handling the different punches thrown."
Overall, 11 different Lees-McRae players made their Bobcat debuts over the weekend. One of those was freshman Andrew Gardner. The 6-8 freshman forward averaged 14 points over the weekend and is the Bobcats top scorer through two games.
Meanwhile, the Eagles will be seeking to continue some early stingy tendencies.
Carson-Newman has the top scoring defense in the South Atlantic Conference at 57.5 points per game. That figure is fifth best in the country. The Eagles' zone has also forced opponents into a 20.4 percent shooting effort from three, the sixth best total in the nation.
"Because of our style of play, especially early, the defense can have an advantage over the offense," Benson said. "I don't want to make too big a deal about it. Obviously, I'm very happy that we've performed defensively the way we have, and would love it if we were able to sustain that. Offensive play today is so explosive, it's hard to think that we'll be able to keep teams sub-60 for very much longer."
Carson-Newman has won 12 straight against Lees-McRae dating back to the 1995-96 season. The Eagles renew the series for the first time since the 2013-14 season, a 98-70 C-N win. C-N's average margin of victory on the 12-game winning streak has been 14.3 points per game. The Eagles have six double-digit wins during that stretch and a trio of victories of at least 20 points.
Lees-McRae is one of three Conference Carolinas foes on the schedule this season. The Eagles have won seven straight against the league dating back to a 73-65 loss to Mount Olive in the second game of the 2014-15 season.
Tipoff between the Eagles and Bearcats is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday. Coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 6:45 p.m. with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.