VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (5-2, 0-2 South Atlantic Conference) will try to put a stop to a three-game losing streak when a Lenoir-Rhyne (7-1, 1-1 SAC) team that's receiving votes in the NABC poll arrives at Holt Fieldhouse Wednesday night before finals start at C-N.
The first 100 students who make it to the doubleheader with the women's basketball team will receive an ugly Christmas sweater t-shirt for Ugly Christmas Sweater Night.
Carson-Newman is coming off back-to-back losses for the first time this season. The Eagles are looking to avoid their third three-game skid in the last eight years.
"We're a team right now that is still trying to learn and establish different levels of confidence, on the defensive side of the ball in particular," Benson said. "We're a lot more focused on the details and factors that lead to winning games than we are outcomes. Everybody wants to win a game, there's no doubt about that. But we're focusing more on ourselves than we have in the past several years."
The Eagles lost in succession to Hillsdale, Winona State and Johnson C. Smith during later November of the 2016-17 season. To find the Eagles' last three-game conference losing streak, you have to examine games against Lenoir-Rhyne, Tusculum and Wingate during the 2015-16 campaign.
The Eagles' only other three-game losing streak under Chuck Benson came during his first year as head coach at Carson-Newman in 2010.
After starting the year 5-0 as one of the best passing and rebounding teams in the SAC, the Eagles have fallen off the last two games. The Eagles were averaging 20.6 assists per game through the first five contests of the year. However, C-N has been limited to 10 and eight assists in its last two losses. Carson-Newman started out the year plus-6.1 on the glass, but has been outrebounded by an average of 10 boards these past two games.
C-N has also struggled with defending the offensive glass. The Eagles gave up 20 second chance points against Lincoln Memorial and 22 to Wingate. C-N is minus-34 in second chance points these last two games (minus-48 in the last three if a win over Tennessee Wesleyan is included).
Carson-Newman is looking to match its longest ever winning streak against Lenoir-Rhyne. The Eagles won four straight from 2000-2002 and from 2013-15. The Eagles rallied from 17 and 16-point deficits last year before winning 90-83 and 89-79 in overtime. The Eagles have won their last three against Lenoir-Rhyne.
Lenoir-Rhyne is off to its best start since 2015-16. Lenoir-Rhyne started 8-1 that year and would go on to make the Sweet 16 in Ryan Odom's (of UMBC upset fame now) lone season at the helm of the program.
"There start isn't surprising at all," Benson said. "They've been moving toward a season like they're having since Everick got there. I thought after last year, going into this year, that they would be a team in contention for a SAC title, and they're doing that."
This year, the Bears are led by the second best one-two scoring punch in the South Atlantic Conference. Corey Thomas and Djibril Diallo. Thomas checks in with 17.1 points per game; Diallo sends in 16.8 per contest. Only Queens' duo of Daniel Carr and Shawn Willett combines to average more. The Royals pair tallies 34.4 points per game, while the Bears' duo pushes 33.9.
"They've been around the block and have all the skills necessary," Benson said. "They can shoot the three, they're physical drivers and they have all the confidence in the world. They will challenge us, and we need that."
Thomas has scored in double figures in every game with the exception of a seven-point effort in an 83-52 win over Southern Wesleyan. He's topped out with a pair of 24-point performances against Young Harris and Newberry.
Diallo has a similar scoring run. He's hit double digits in all but one event, a nine-point game in the Bears' 101-72 opening-day win over Young Harris. He had a season-high 25 on 10-of-11 shooting against Southern Wesleyan.
The Bears are one of the best teams at sharing the basketball. L-R leads the SAC and is 10th in the country with 135 assists on the season. They come from all over. Five different players for L-R average two assists per game. Furman transfer Jonathan Jean is tops on the team with 4.25 a game.
Bertrand Awana is the best shot blocker in the SAC. He has 12 rejections on the year and is 28th nationally in that regard.
Tipoff between the Eagles and Bears is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday. Coverage will be available on the Eagle Sports Network starting at 7:45 p.m. with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.