JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (5-0) makes the short trek north to the Tennessee-Kentucky border to open South Atlantic Conference play and renew its biannual rivalry with Lincoln Memorial (3-2), Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. from Tex Turner Arena.
The Eagles are looking for a third straight league-opening win. LMU was the last team to beat C-N in an opener, downing the Eagles 98-82 to start the 2015-16 conference slate.
The post-Emmanuel Terry, Dorian Pinson and Trevon Shaw era for Lincoln Memorial has been about finding an offensive identity.
Lincoln Memorial saw a 22-week stretch in the NABC coaches poll come to an end after back-to-back losses to USC Aiken and Christian Brothers. The Railsplitters have been ranked 119 of the past 122 weeks of the NABC coaches poll, including a stretch of 95 consecutive weeks – the second-longest streak in Division II men's basketball.
"They are still taking great pride in their defense, which is one of the key elements to any successful program," Carson-Newman head coach Chuck Benson said. "The other thing that sticks out is that they are very talented. Once their experience catches up to their talent, watch out."
The past three seasons, the 'Splitters have been among the top five teams in the country in field goal efficiency. However, that's taken a knock this year.
LMU is currently ranked eighth in the 11-team SAC and 232nd in the nation in field-goal percentage with a 42.5 percent mark. The Railsplitters are second in the league with 11.4 three-pointers per game, but rank eighth in the SAC and 202nd in the country in three-point percentage at 33.1 percent.
While LMU is still searching for its offensive identity, it's defensive strength has remained intact.
"They really use their athleticism well on defense," Benson said. "They allow their personnel to get out, extend out, pressure the ball more and challenge all passes. They are ultra-aggressive and will pick you up 94 feet and work you the entire way up the floor."
LMU ranks 18th nationally in field-goal percentage defense with a 38 percent mark. The Railsplitters have allowed over 40 percent shooting just once this season, and that came in their loss at Christian Brothers, which connected on 55 percent of its shot attempts. Other than that, Lincoln Memorial has held its opponents to 27.5, 37.1, 37.3 and 38.0 shooting percentages, respectively.
Lincoln Memorial is going for a fifth straight win against Carson-Newman, a streak that would match the Railsplitters longest ever win streak against the Eagles. A Josh Schertz-coached LMU team has never beaten Carson-Newman on five straight occasions.
LMU won five consecutive over C-N from 1988-90. However, this most recent run by LMU has been utterly dominant. Since Carson-Newman tallied a 111- 109 win in overtime win to open the 2016 conference schedule, LMU has picked up four massive wins by an average of 31.5 points per game. Carson-Newman has been no closer than 12 points during that stretch.
The Railsplitters have won a league-record 34 consecutive South Atlantic Conference games. They've won 22 consecutive regular season home games, last SAC team to beat LMU, doing so 103-101 in overtime in the Levine Center on Jan. 9, 2017. Newberry was the last team to win in Harrogate in the regular season, collecting a 107-102 triumph on Dec. 17, 2016
The Eagles have won 12 straight November games and are looking for a second straight 6-0 start. The Eagles have started 6-0 in back-to-back years precisely once in school history. That nugget featured the 1960-61 and 1961-62 teams, which got off to 8-0 starts, two of the best starts in school history. Johnson C. Smith was the last team to beat C-N in November. The Eagles closed November 2016 with an 88-75 loss to the Golden Bulls
Grant Teichmann (Brentwood, Tenn.) has led the Eagles with a stratospheric stat line. The senior is averaging 18.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game while shooting an absurd 70.5 percent from the field and 64 percent from three to go along with an 88 percent effort from the charity stripe.
"If he does that for a season, he'll be playing pro basketball somewhere," Benson said. "We aren't anticipating him to be able to continue this pace because it's just too elite. He'll come back to reality at some point, but he doesn't need to be doing anything outside of his norms. This season is more about the collective unit too. We don't have a Charles Clark, an Antoine Davis, an Ish Sanders. We have a lot of guys who can step up."
The contest features two of the five leading scorers in the SAC. Teichmann is fourth with his 18.6 points per game. LMU's Cornelius Taylor is third at 19.0 a contest. Taylor, a junior and preseason All-American, has been a thorn in the Eagles' side since coming to Harrogate. He's scored in double figures in every game that he has appeared. That includes 18 in his first career appearance against C-N, then a career high accompanied by a 6-of-7 effort from beyond the arc.
Tipoff between Carson-Newman and Lincoln Memorial is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday night. Coverage of the contest will be available on the Eagle Sports Network starting at 7:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.