VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (8-4, 1-4 South Atlantic Conference) will see its defense tested when the Catawba College Catawba Indians (10-2, 3-1 SAC) arrive for a 4 p.m. tip inside Holt Fieldhouse Saturday.
The Indians lead the SAC in scoring with 88.2 points per game. Catawba has scored less than 80 points just three times this season.
"If I were a betting man, I'd bet they are an NCAA tournament team," head coach Chuck Benson said. "They'd had more than their fair share of bad luck in recent memory. They are legit. Rob Perron has done a great job of putting together a solid, deep roster. There's nothing that they are lacking. For us to have the best chance to win, we absolutely have to have our A-game."
Catawba has gotten there with an efficient and effective offense. The Indians are third in the league in field goal percentage at 49.4 percent and fourth in three-point percentage at 38.5. On top of that, the Indians also make it to the free throw line the most of any team in the SAC and the 14th most nationally. Catawba has knocked down 213 free throws (C-N is third in the conference with 205 freebies).
The Indians have attempted at least 20 free throws in all but two games this year. They have four games wtih at least 30 attempts.
The Indians are balanced scoring too. Jameel Taylor, a preseason All-SAC selection, leads the way with 14 points. He's scored in double figures in six straight games, topping out with a season-high 21 on New Year's Eve against Saint Augustine's.
"Taylor is the engine of their car," Benson said. "He'll do what he does, scoring points, getting on the glass and facilitating offense. On top of that, he's probably their best on-ball defender. He's going to impact the game in a positive way. But we have to catch multiple raindrops. We have to do several things on both sides of the ball to give ourselves the best chance to win."
However, Taylor is far from the Indians only option. Seven guys on the roster average at least 7.9 points per game. Transfers Marcell Haskett and Daquan Lilly join Taylor as double-digit scorers with 13.5 and 13.0 points per game.
All told, 10 different players for Catawba have put forth a double-digit scoring effort on the year. Four different guys have scored at least 20 in a game.
Meanwhile, the Eagles opened 2019 with a 90-83 win over future SAC member UVA-Wise. C-N built a 16-point lead before staving off a second half Cavalier comeback.
"I thought we showed resilience and a level of composure and poise to take some punches," Benson said. "We made enough winning plays to secure a W. I like that our team was tested like that because it helps prepare us as we get back to conference play."
Carson-Newman hasn't dropped a home game to Catawba since Jan. 29, 2011, 85-75 to the Indians. In spite of winning seven straight at home against Catawba, the Eagles average margin of victory against the Indians is only five points, if you exclude a 101-75 win last year. Half of those meetings and three of the last five have only been decided by a possession.
Discounting Carson-Newman's season sweep of Catawba last year (101-75 and 103-89 C-N wins), the series of late between Carson-Newman and Catawba has been incredibly tight. C-N leads on aggregate by seven points, 567-559 over the nine meetings before the Eagles' wins last season. Carson-Newman has a 7-4 lead in the series over the last 11 meetings. Nine of the last 11 meetings have been decided by seven points or less. In fact, all but three of the last 14 meetings have been decided by less than 10 points.
Malik Abraham (Snellville, Ga.) needs to knock down three more threes to count 200 made triples in his C-N career. That would make him the sixth guy in program history with that many made threes. It would also tie him with Jesse McMurray (2005-09) for fifth on the all-time C-N list. He needs 24 more threes to start making his way through the South Atlantic Conference record book.
Mason Bates (Cookeville, Tenn.) and Abraham are both on the 1,000-point watch for their careers at Carson-Newman. Bates sits at 894 career points. Abraham has 862.
Tipoff between the Eagles and Indians is set for 4 p.m. Saturday. Coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 3:45 p.m. with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.