VIDEO: Chuck Benson Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (10-8, 3-7 South Atlantic Conference) last five games have all amounted to a tale of two halves. The Eagles will try to correct that trend when Wingate (10-8, 6-4 SAC) arrives in Holt Fieldhouse for a 4 p.m. tipoff Saturday.
Both teams have dropped three of their last four games. Both teams enter Saturday's action off losses where their opponent couldn't miss. Johnson C. Smith became the first team since Wingate in 2007 to shoot 70 percent from the field for a half against Carson-Newman in an 85-71 win over the Eagles Monday. Meanwhile, Wingate dropped a 95-71 decision to Queens Wednesday after the Royals made 10 of their first 11 shots to open up the game.
"Wingate is talented," head coach Chuck Benson said. "They have size and depth. What they have experienced these past couple weeks is similar to what we have experienced. I'd say both teams are ready to begin this second trek through conference play. We are locked in because we know how much of a challenge this game will be."
Carson-Newman has similar openings over its last five games (the Eagles are 2-3 in that stretch), but have had more than their fair share of second half struggles.
The Eagles lost halftime leads to Queens, Tusculum and Johnson C. Smith en route to defeats in those games. Meanwhile, against Anderson and Newberry, the Eagles saw leads of 17 and 27 evaporate to two possession games.
In the first halves of those five games, the Eagles are +6.4 on the score board, shooting 49 percent from the field and knocking down 8.2 threes per half at a 46.6 percent clip. Furthermore, C-N held its opposition to 40 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent shooting from long range.
"We have to stay focused on the most controllable elements of the game," Benson said. "We can't catch every raindrop. We have to prioritize what is most important to our team in any particular game and stay with that."
In the second halves of those five games, the Eagles are -9.8 in scoring margin. C-N's shooting percentages dip to 41.9 percent from the field and 28 percent from three with 4.8 triples made per half. Business also picks up from the oppositions offense. Opponents are shooting 52 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.
On the other hand, Wingate has what-if feelings. The loss to Queens notwithstanding, the Bulldogs two other defeats, 80-77 in overtime at home to Tusculum, and 67-64 at home to Lenoir-Rhyne, came in the final seconds. The Bulldogs had a look at a three to tie against L-R in the final seconds, while the Pioneers had a dunk with eight seconds to tie in regulation and a floater to win it in overtime with 10 seconds left. Reverse those two tight home losses, and the Bulldogs are 8-2 in the league and sitting in second place.
Wingate has seen leading scorer Marco Haskins swoon a little bit during that stretch. Haskins continues to pace Wingate offensively with 19.2 points per game; he is the league's third-leading scorer.
However, Haskins hasn't been on the meteoric pace he was on three weeks ago. After a Jan. 5 game at Mars Hill, Haskins was number one in the nation in three-point field goal percentage and second in threes made.
"He's big, he can shoot it and he's got unlimited range," Benson said. "He is the most improved player in this league. He's certainly making the most of his last year in a Bulldog uniform."
Over the last four games, he is 10-of-42 from distance (23.8 percent). Haskins still is 11th in the nation in threes made with 3.44 per game. His 45 percent clip is fourth in the SAC and 29th in the country. Haskins went for 21 points, 12 rebounds and made 3-of-7 threes in the Bulldogs 82-62 win over the Eagles back in early December.
The Eagles actually outshot the Bulldogs in the first game this year. Carson-Newman knocked down 42 percent of its shots while limiting Wingate below its season shooting averages with a 37 percent effort from the field and a 38 percent effort from long range.
However, Wingate grabbed 21 offensive boards, outrebounded C-N 47-38 and outscored Carson-Newman 22-7 in second chance points to get a weird 20-point win over the Eagles.
Mason Bates (Cookeville, Tenn.) and Malik Abraham (Snellville, Ga.) are both on the 1,000-point watch for their careers at Carson-Newman. Bates sits at 930 career points. Abraham has 939. They are seeking to become the 27th and 28th 1,000-point scorers in C-N men's basketball program history.
Tipoff between the Eagles and Bulldogs is set for 4 p.m. Saturday. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network begins at 3:45 p.m. with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on The Mountain 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.