SAC title on the line as #3 C-N hosts #21 Wingate on senior day

VIDEO: Mike Mincey Interview

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – As third-ranked Carson-Newman prepares for senior day, the South Atlantic Conference will see the second winner-take-all regular season finale in the history of the league Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. as the Lady Eagles host 21st-ranked Wingate at Holt Fieldhouse.

"At the beginning of the year if you say you are going to be 25-2, 17-2 in the league and you are going to play a home game at the end of the year against Wingate to try win the league outright would you take it," Carson-Newman coach Mike Mincey reflected. "Absolutely we would take it. Basketball is a long season. It is 28 games long. What we have done for the whole season – I am very proud of our group and our team. It's been a special one. Now we get to come down to playing a meaningful game Saturday to see who is going to be the No. 1 seed coming out of our conference."

It would be the fifth title for Carson-Newman (25-2, 17-2) in school history and first since sharing the title with Presbyterian in 1997-98, 21 seasons ago. Three of the prior four titles won have been shared. The only time the program has won the league outright came in 1991-92. Wingate (23-3, 17-2) is seeking its 11th crown and first since the 2013-14 season.

The only other time the league has seen a scenario came on Feb. 26, 2005 at Holt Fieldhouse when C-N and Wingate entered with 10-3 marks in SAC play as unranked teams. The Bulldogs came out on top 51-50.

In the affair, the Bulldogs led by as many as nine points in the first five minutes of the second half. The Eagles battled back and captured a 48-46 edge with 2:18 to go on a layup from Brooke Johnson. Wingate scored the next five points as Petra Nagy's triple with 1:34 to go proved to be the clincher.

Eight days later Carson-Newman avenged that setback by trouncing the Bulldogs in the SAC Tournament title game 64-43 to win the only tournament title in school history.

It is the first regular season meeting featuring a pair of ranked SAC teams since Jan. 13, 2007 when 25th-ranked C-N beat 19th-ranked Wingate on the road 56-54. 

Carson-Newman has the eighth-longest home winning streak in the country having won 19 straight games by an average of 31 points. Wingate was the last team to win in Holt doing so in overtime, 80-75 on Jan. 7, 2017.

The Lady Eagles have won 18 of the 19 games by double figures with a seven-point, 82-75, win over Lenoir-Rhyne on Feb. 11, 2017 the only contest decided by less than 10.

This year, C-N is averaging 104.3 points per game at home shooting 52 percent from the floor while posting nine games with at least 100 points.

Saturday is the 72nd matchup of the two programs with Wingate on top 41-30 having won nine straight meetings since a 56-50 triumph for C-N on March 2, 2013 at Mossy Creek. Current assistant coach Tatum Burstrom scored 12 points as C-N outscored Wingate 39-24 in the second half to complete as a season sweep of the Bulldogs.

In the first meeting, Mincey's team held a 12-point lead with 9:48 to go only to see Wingate score 33 points and make 69-percent of its shots in the fourth quarter to snare a 68-64 victory. It was the worst shooting performance for C-N on the year making 32.8 percent of its shots. The next lowest number came at Lenoir-Rhyne on Feb. 3 when it shot 35.9 in a 25-point win.

Wingate rides to Mossy Creek owning a 12-game winning streak that is tied for the 10th-longest in the country this year. The last time the Bulldogs tasted defeat came on Jan. 6 at Anderson, a 63-53 setback. All three losses on the year for the team have come in away contests.

It will be a matchup of contrasting styles as Wingate is the best scoring defense in the conference at under 58 points per game. A team has been held under 60 points on 16 occasions with Lander's 81-76 win on Nov. 21 the only time a club has topped 70 points.

Despite attempting the fewest three-pointers of any team in the country this year, Wingate has the third-highest three-point percentage making 40 percent of its shots from beyond the arc. It is registered under four makes per game in league action and have not made more than six since a season-high 11 at Mars Hill on Jan. 20.

Coach Ann Hancock's team is 16th in the nation in field-goal percentage at 46 percent to rank second in the league and is turning the ball over 15 times per game, the second-fewest among SAC clubs.

Marta Miscenko is the team's leading scorer at 16.7 points per game and rebounder at 7.8 - marks that rank sixth in the league. Over her last four games against the Lady Eagles, she is averaging 17 points and nine boards with two double-doubles while shooting 66 percent from the field. While the senior went for 10 points and eight boards in Holt a year ago, Miscenko managed just 4-for-9 shooting from the field.

"It starts with Marta inside," Mincey assessed. "She is one of the best post players in the country. She is very skilled, moves really well. If you try to double her she can find open guys. She's very hard to guard."

It is senior day for the Lady Eagles who will honor five players (Allison Hodge, Kayla Newman, Jecca Simerly, Katie Stubblefield and Abby Tinsley). C-N has won six of its last eight senior days.

"They have won a lot of games," Mincey stated. "The culture that they have brought to our program. It was rough going a little bit at the beginning. We decided that we wanted higher character kids that took their academics seriously that were good basketball players. They have been great to coach. It's going to be really hard to replace them.

Hodge suffered a career-ending injury following a rookie campaign that netted the Blaine, Tenn. native SAC All-Freshman team honors during the program's eighth NCAA Tournament trip. She Scored in double figures eight times while handing out at least three assists six times and posted a career-high 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting including 4-for-6 from behind the arc in a season-high 31 minutes at Tusculum on Nov. 19, 2017.

Newman was tabbed to the SAC's All-Freshman team in 2015-16 after starting 25 games and scoring nearly seven points per game. The Alcoa, Tenn. native tallied her lone career double-double with 18 points and 12 boards at Mars Hill on Feb. 3, 2016. Overall, Newman has started 46 games in her career.

Simerly joined Hodge on the 2014-15 SAC All-Freshman team after posting 10 points and six boards per night. The Talbott, Tenn. native has started 95 of her 104 total games played, including each of the last 29. The forward has 23 games in double figures and nine double-doubles including four during her senior season. In her career, Simerly is shooting 58 percent from the field with 730 points and 522 rebounds while ranking fifth on the school's block ledger with 85.

Stubblefield has been the top option off of Mincey's bench over the last two years having seen action in 110 games and has been a part of 98 wins in the Orange and Blue. The Alcoa, Tenn. native has scored 625 points with 306 rebounds while shooting 47 percent from the field. She has 28 double-digit scoring efforts and has missed just one game since the start of her sophomore year.

Tinsley has seen time in 70 games since arriving on campus before the 2015-16 season. The Charlottesville, Va. native is shooting 59 percent from the field this season while racking up over 150 career rebounds. She has been a part of 63 wins in her three years with the Lady Eagles.

Tune into the broadcast on the Eagle Sports Network starting at 1:45 for "The Appalachian Electric Cooperative Countdown to Tip-Off" on 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) with audio and video streams available on free of charge.

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