JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – The post-Charles Clark era is here for Carson-Newman basketball.
Chuck Benson opens up his ninth year as head coach without the services of the South Atlantic Conference's all-time leading scorer for the first time in four years.
C-N gets the 2018-19 season rolling at a conference challenge in Central, S.C. against Southern Wesleyan Friday at 7:30 p.m. before wrapping up play against Lander at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Benson compared the feeling of losing Clark to graduation and Iceland's top professional league to the feeling he had after Antoine Davis and Ish Sanders, a duo that combined for more than 3,400 points in their C-N careers, to graduation following the 2013-14 season.
"I'm as sad and depressed about it now as I was four years ago when we lost Antoine and Ish," Benson said. "I said last year that I was going to enjoy every day with Charles, and I did. But that was last year and this is this year.
"I've liked this team through our preseason and our practices leading up to game one. We're still in the processes of trying to identify the players as to who is going to do what. I've liked our approach to that."
While Clark and his 2,339 career points are gone, the cupboard is far from bare for the Eagles. All-SAC preseason first teamer Malik Abraham (Snellville, Ga.) as well as key guards Mason Bates (Cookeville, Tenn.) and Grant Teichmann (Brentwood, Tenn.).
That trio combined to average 32.7 points per game last year. All three players also shot at least 42 percent from the field and 41 percent from three.
However, while Benson enters the season with known commodities in those three players, the question remains who will step up to also fill the roles of graduated forwards Shaun Jones and Josh Murray.
"The biggest challenge we've had is trying to identify a rotation," Benson said. "You know what Mason, Grant and Malik can do. Then we've got a bunch of guys who are in a log jam. We're looking to try to establish a chain of command and order. We've done a lot of up and down among that group. We at least guys who are veterans that we can count on heavily early."
Carson-Newman men's basketball is 41-20 all-time in season opening games. The Eagles are 5-1 over the last six seasons in lidlifters. Carson-Newman opened last season with an 82-78 win over Lander.
This is the fourth year of this particular Conference Challenge alignment featuring Lander and SWU. C-N is 5-1. The Eagles are averaging 86.5 points per game and have been held below 80 just once, against Lander in a 72-65 loss in 2015.
Carson-Newman is 12-8 against Conference Carolinas competition under Benson and 6-5 against the Peach Belt. The Eagles beat SWU and King out of Conference Carolinas last year. C-N had wins over Lander and Columbus State out of the Peach Belt in the regular season, but were eliminated from the NCAA tournament by Clayton State.
Southern Wesleyan comes into 2018-19 off a two-win season a year ago. However, the Warriors are under new management. After a year as the head honcho at Tusculum, Nick Pasqua has moved on to Central, S.C. to coach the Warriors.
"We have very little intel on them because it's their first game," head coach Chuck Benson said. "The one common theme in the conversations I've had with other coaches is that they're playing very hard. Nick is trying to establish a culture of effort and toughness."
Southern Wesleyan was picked to finish last in Conference Carolinas this year by the league's coaches. However, the Warriors do return their first and third leading scorers from a year ago in DJ Dobson and Jeremy Wert. Dobson tallied 14.7 points per game last year on a 51 percent clip, while Wert chipped in 9.4 a game. Wert led all scorers in last year's meeting with 20 points.
Meanwhile, Lander was picked to finish 11th in the 12-team Peach Belt Conference. In spite of that selection, the Bearcats bring back All-PBC guard Rahu Purdie and Jordan Dingle, who averaged 10.8 points per game.
"They return their best players from last year," Benson said. "Purdie and Dingle can both score it. Then they loaded up on transfers. From a talent standpoint, they've upgraded. We'll get to see them and get a feel for them, but there's not question they are formidable, especially with how multiple they are offensively and defensively."
Both Dingle and Purdie went for double digits last year against Carson-Newman.
Tipoff Friday between the Eagles and Warriors is set for 7:30 p.m. Coverage of the contest will be available on the Eagle Sports Network online at cneagles.com/live.