JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – When Carson-Newman (11-9, 4-8 South Atlantic Conference) takes on Lenoir-Rhyne (15-4, 8-3 SAC) Saturday at 4 in Hickory, the Eagles will be trying to do something that no Carson-Newman team has done this century – win back-to-back games at Shuford Memorial Gymnasium.
The Eagles' prevailed in overtime last year in Hickory 89-79. However, the Bears downed the Eagles 78-62 on Dec. 5 after bouncing out to a 32-point lead early in the second half. Lenoir-Rhyne is trying to do something the Bears haven't done since the 2011-12 season, sweep a season series from Carson-Newman. The Eagles own a 9-5 edge in the series over the last seven years.
"We have got to do two things," head men's basketball coach Chuck Benson said. "We have to make shots, and we have to make offense difficult for them. For whatever reasons, we've struggled to do both of those things in Hickory. Hopefully we have some momentum heading into this contest."
Lenoir-Rhyne has put together the second best scoring defense in the South Atlantic Conference, allowing 73.9 points per game. The Bears have given up more than 80 just once since the calendar flipped to 2019, a 93-86 win over Mars Hill at home on Jan. 9. Just the Lions, Newberry, Livingstone and Emmanuel have surpassed the 80-point threshold on the Bears all season.
Lenoir-Rhyne is led by the duo of Djibril Diallo and Corey Thomas. Thomas chucks in 15.7 points per game, while Diallo adds in 15.0. They are the only scoring tandem in the conference outside Queens' duo of Shawn Willett and Daniel Carr to both average at least 15 points per game.
"They are really good," Benson said. "They're both veterans and big tough guards. Both Thomas and Diallo are all-conference caliber guards who can beat you off the catch and the bounce. We need to be challenged by the best so we can measure ourselves against it."
Lenoir-Rhyne boasts of the best rim protector in the South Atlantic Conference. Bertrand Awana leads the SAC and ranks 25th nationally with 35 rejections this year.
Carson-Newman is looking for its first road win since Dec. 15 at Coker (79-63). The Eagles have lost three consecutive away from Holt. That was also the last time the Eagles put together back-to-back wins, triumphing over Fort Valley State 95-67 and the Cobras in back-to-back fashion.
"You have two teams that are at different points this particular year," Benson said. "L-R has in Coach Sullivan's first two years, struggled in terms of wins and losses. Now, in year three, he has kids that have been there and been invested. They are putting it together. On the other hand, we have been in a rebuild scenario. Both teams I think come in with different mindsets in terms of finding themselves. They'll be excited and fired up after beating Queens Wednesday."
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 961 career points. Abraham has 964. They are seeking to become the 27th and 28th 1,000-point scorers in C-N men's basketball program history.
Coverage of the contest will be available on the Eagle Sports Network for the contest at 4 p.m. Airtime on the ESN is set for 3:45 with the AEC Countdown to Tipoff on The Mountain 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.