CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carson-Newman (16-5) used an 11-0 second half run to outpace top-seeded and 17th-ranked Queens (16-5) and lay claim to its fourth South Atlantic Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament Championship 88-79 Sunday evening in Curry Arena.
Carson-Newman scorched the nets to the tune of 56.1 shooting – the second-best shooting performance in SAC title game history – while limiting Queens to 35.1 percent shooting after halftime. The Eagles turned a one-point halftime deficit into the nine-point win.
“This was not a neutral site event,” head men’s basketball coach Chuck Benson said. “We had to come on the road in the semifinals and finals to play two defensive-minded veteran clubs. To show the poise, determination and fight speaks volumes about what our people are about. To say I’m proud is the understatement of this basketball season.”
The Eagles extend their win streak to 11 consecutive games while snapping a 13-game losing streak at the hands of the Royals. C-N wins its first SAC title as a three seed and its first since 2015.
C-N’s youth paved the way. Carson-Newman had three freshmen combined for 42 points.
Ren Dyer (Weaverville, N.C.) led the way with 20 points for the second time in his career. He was 7-for-11 from the field and 5-of-6 from long range. Dyer had 16 of his points after halftime. Meanwhile Tyler Bowens (Greenville, S.C.) reset his career high with 13 points. He was 5-of=7 from the floor. Finally, Joshuwa Butts (Fairburn, Ga.) chipped in nine points on 4-of-7 shooting.
“Big stage, big deliveries by those three freshman,” Benson said. “Tyler and Butts really put it together both halves, but Ren was on another level in the second half. He got crazy. We don’t win without them, pure and simple. I don’t like coaching them. I love coaching them.”
Carson-Newman trailed by nine in the first half before rallying to get within one at the break with EJ Bush (Oak Ridge, Tenn.), Luke Brenegan (Greenville, S.C.) and Dyer on the bench in foul trouble.
Queens rolled out of the gates to start the second half on a 7-0 run before C-N found its footing. Trailing by five, 50-45 with 15:17 remaining, Dyer and Bowens canned back-to-back Js to tie things up at 50 with 13:07 to play.
The Royals too their last lead of the game with 11:02 to play on a Quan McClunney three before Dyer erupted.
Brenegan had an immediate answer to put C-N back in front before Dyer drained back-to-back transition triples to give C-N a 65-60 edge with 9:53 to play.
“Our defense sparked the surge,” Benson said. “We got stops and turned those stops into points. That’s a credit to the guys for listening and it was done in a time when we needed it. Our defense generated those opportunities.”
C-N outscored the Royals 20-6 over the next four minutes to stretch the edge to as many as 14. Triples by Dyer and Brenegan sandwiched a Tripp Davis (Nashville, Tenn.) and-one to cap the surge for a 77-63 Eagle advantage with 7:20 to play.
After going 0-for-4 from beyond the arc in the first half, Carson-Newman torched the nets from long range after halftime. C-N canned its first seven threes in the second half and was 7-for-8 from long distance.
Bush earned tournament MVP honors. He capped the run with a 15-point performance in 19 minutes. Bush was 6-for-11 from the field.
Bryant Thomas tallied his sixth career double-digit scoring effort with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. The elder Brenegan brother also had 10 to go along with five boards and six assists.
“They are so willing to follow instruction,” Benson said. “They are so willing to trust what we are doing as coaches and then trust each other. There’s a synergistic effect that happens with these guys. Who they are as people, their belief system and how they’ve been raised. I’m very fortunate to coach this group.”
Jamari Smith had a massive night for Queens. He led all scorers with 26 points on 8-of-17 shooting. He had eight rebounds to boot.
McCluney added in 17 points while Kenny Dye had 13.
Carson-Newman snapped a 17-game losing streak to ranked opposition with the win. The Eagles became the first three seed to win the tournament title since 2013.
The 88 points are third most that Queens had given up this season, while C-N’s 56.1 shooting percentage is the highest allowed by Queens all year.
Carson-Newman finds out its NCAA tournament fate Sunday evening. The Eagles will be postseason bound for a fourth time under head men’s basketball coach Chuck Benson, and a sixth time overall.