BANNER ELK, N.C.—In spite of shooting a white-hot 59.1 percent from the field, Carson-Newman (0-1) fell on opening night for the first time in five years in a 103-101 decision to Lees-McRae (1-0) Friday night at Williams Gym.
Carson-Newman shot a higher percentage from the field (59.1 percent) and from beyond the arc (45.8 percent) than it did at the charity stripe (11-for-24, 45.8 percent). Additionally, Carson-Newman coughed up the spherical orange pumpkin 20 times to negate the advantage gained with its offensive efficiency. Lees-McRae only coughed it up 11 times and had a 24-11 edge in points off turnovers.
"This was one of those games where I didn't know what to expect from our guys because it was ourr first time in live game action," head coach Chuck Benson said. "We didn't do our guys any favors by opening up in one of the toughest places to play in Conference Carolinas. Unfortunately we came up short in terms of the win or the loss. However, honestly, there's a whole lot to be happy about for us moving forward. I like a lot of what I saw."
The loss is Carson-Newman's first on a season opener since a 74-72 decision at Barton to open the 2014-15 season. It also snaps a string of 13 straight wins over Lees-McRae dating back to the 1995-96 campaign. Additionally, Carson-Newman saw its nine-game winning streak over Conference Carolinas schools come to an end. The Eagles last lost to Mount Olive in the second game of the 2014-15 campaign.
The loss obfuscates stand out debut performances from Bryan transfer EJ Bush (Oak Ridge, Tenn.) and UNC Charlotte transfer Jaylan McGill (Charlotte, N.C.). Bush led all scorers with a 27-point, 13-rebound double-double. He knocked down 13-of-17 shot attempts. Meanwhile, McGill added in 20 points on 4-of-7 shooting from long range and 7-of-12 shooting from the field.
McGill's effort gives him a new career high for points and made field goals, his four threes match a career-best from his days with the 49ers when he had a quartet of triples at Florida Atlantic.
The pair was part of a quintet of Eagles who scored in double figures. Reece Anderson (Douglasvile, Ga.) stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, four rebounds and four assists. Luke Brenegan (Nashville, Tenn.) added in 12 points on 4-of-8 shoot from distance. Kamil Chapman (Charlotte, N.C.) added in 11 points.
The Eagles shot 59.1 percent from the field. It's Carson-Newman's best shooting night in a loss since firing away at a 60 percent clip in 2016 in a 102-88 loss to Lincoln Memorial.
Carson-Newman bounced out to a 13-point lead in the first five minutes of the game after starting the contest on a 12-0 run. Jaylan McGill splashed in a three on the break to give C-N an 18-5 lead four minutes in.
However, Lees-McRae erased it quickly with 16-2 and 14-2 runs to take a 58-48 lead into the halftime locker-room. The Bobcats were up by as many as 15 before the Eagles scored the final five points of the half to cut the deficit to 10 at the break.
Carson-Newman wouldn't go quietly into the night and kept up pressure in the second half. A Nick Rogers (Knoxville, Tenn.) fadeaway three and a Bush layup on the break pulled C-N within one, 70-69 with 13:59 to play in the second half. However, C-N could never get over the hump.
The Eagles would get within one six more times in the half, but never could get a timely stop and bucket to take the lead.
Part of that came down to free throw shooting. Carson-Newman went 1-for-6 at the line in the final seven minutes of the game when only down one or two.
Even with the free throw woes, Carson-Newman still had a chance to win it. After Lees-McRae's Andrew Gardner went 1-for-2 on a trip to the stripe to make it a 103-101 game, Carson-Newman got the ball back with seven seconds left. C-N weaved up the floor and got McGill an open look from the right wing, but the junior missed short and two the right after a well-executed final play.
Kamil Williams led Lees-McRae with 21 points, however, 16 of those came in the first half. Gardner added a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Quay Kimble, Jerick Haynes and Anthony Hicks rounded out LMC's quintet of double-digit scorers with 13, 12 and 10 respectively.
Carson-Newman outrebounded LMC 44-40, but the Bobcats had a 20-16 edge in second chance points.
The game was played at a breakneck pace. C-N had 22 fast break points to 16 for LMC.