JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Sixth-ranked Carson-Newman, the top seed in the Southeast Region, looks to match a program record for wins in a season and earn its first region championship Monday night at 7 p.m. inside of Holt Fieldhouse against third-seeded and 25th-ranked North Georgia.
"Our mindset has changed a little bit," Carson-Newman coach Mike Mincey said. "We got a little more defensive minded. Since we lost to LMU, we haven't lost since. It hasn't been the 100-point games. It has been the high 70s, low 80s. We have had to play all the way through the fourth quarter. Since then we have had to grind things out."
The only other 30-win season for Carson-Newman (31-2) came during the 1984-85 season when the program finished the year 32-3 and ranked third in the final NAIA poll.
Monday will be Carson-Newman's second game in a regional final in the history of the school. The prior run came in 2005 when the club beat Fayetteville State by 12 and Clayton State by 14 points before losing in the South Atlantic Regional final to Shaw 67-53.
Top seeds are 4-1 in Southeast Region title games having won three of the last five. Mincey's team takes a 13-game home non-conference win streak into Monday. The last loss in Jefferson City to a team outside of the SAC came on Dec. 11, 2013 when Limestone won 82-73. Overall it is a 23-game winning streak inside of the friendly confines, tied for the fourth-longest streak in the country.
"If we were on the road playing the way that we had played, we are probably out of the tournament" Mincey assessed. "That's the good thing about playing the regular season and getting the one seed has aided us to the point where we can play in our second regional championship."
A school from the South Atlantic Conference has advanced to the Elite Eight on five occasions with Wingate going in 1995, 1996 and 2008. Mars Hill advanced to the national quarterfinals in 2002 and Tusculum made a trip in 2010. No program has won a game in the Elite Eight in those five outings.
Monday's affair is the first postseason meeting between the two schools as the Lady Eagles have won six of the first 10 meetings including a 94-90 decision in Dahlonega on Nov. 17.
In five outings at Holt Fieldhouse in the all-time series, C-N has won four and each of the last three. While the first three games featured a combined point differential of 10 points, the Lady Eagles last two wins have come by 17 and 21.
The two sides traded punches in the first meeting as North Georgia led by as many as 12 in the game, one of three contests where C-N has had a double-digit deficit this year.
With 3:44 to go before the break, C-N trailed by eight at 41-33 before going on a 10-2 spurt to knot the score. Mackenzie Darrah made a layup at the buzzer to give the Nighthawks a 47-45 edge at the break.
The third quarter belonged to the Lady Eagles who made 61 percent of their shots from the field and used an 8-2 run to take a 66-60 lead, a margin that would never be overcome by North Georgia. Haris Price (Gatlinburg, Tenn.) and Briana Smith (Nashville, Tenn.) scored 34 of Carson-Newman's 49 second-half points as Mincey's club went 10-for-10 down the stretch to seal the win.
Price registered 29 points going 13-for-14 from the free-throw line while grabbing six rebounds and posting four steals and four assists. Smith finished the night with 23 points going 8-for-12 from the floor.
Amber Skidgel led a North Georgia group that shot 51 percent from the field by racking up 25 points in the defeat but went 8-for-22 from the field. Vanessa Agrusa registered a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards.
North Georgia is in a regional final for the first time in school history after Skidgel had a buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat second-seeded Wingate in the regional semifinal. The Nighthawks won their first-ever Peach Belt Conference Tournament after taking home the regular-season crown.
The game features C-N's offense that ranks third in the country in scoring and a UNG defense that is fourth in field-goal percentage defense at about 34 percent on the year. However in the regional so far, its opponent has produced a higher shooting percentage than North Georgia as Barton shot 47 percent and Wingate shot 55.
In two wins in the NCAA Tournament, six different players have scored in double figures as Agrusa is leading the way with 17 points, eight rebounds and nearly four assists per game in the two outings.
Subtract 31 points at the free-throw line and North Georgia has scored 90 of its 128 points in the paint. Overall on the season, the Nighthawks are 34th nationally with 76 points per game and sit in 20th in America in field-goal percentage making over 45 percent of its shots from the field.
Tickets for the game are five dollars for general admission and four bucks for military and seniors. C-N students with ID will admitted free of charge. The game will be broadcast on 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online with audio and video streams available at cneagles.com/live starting at 6:45 p.m. with "The AEC Countdown to Tip-Off" on the Eagle Sports Network.
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