In a sense this will be a matchup of Cinderella teams, No. 6-seeded Carolina Christian meeting No. 3 Hiwassee at 5 p.m. Thursday in the Christian College National Invitational Tournament's third quarterfinal game in Oakland City University's Johnson Center.
This is the first basketball season for Carolina's Centurions, based in Winston-Salem, N.C.. Yet they've achieved double-figures in wins, owning a 10-12 record.
"I coached 13 years before taking this job, and my relationships with coaches and players helped me get players to come here. Players who weren't going to get a chance elsewhere," Centurions coach Tony Spates said.
Hiwassee jumped out to hot start to begin the season, but have cooled off of late.
"After breaking out to an 11-1 record with 10 straight wins, we lost our big man Aario Johnson due to a groin injury. And after playing on December 12, we didn't play again till January 15. All that time off hurt us and we lost four straight," said Hiwassee Coach Will Raby, who also reported that 6-3 junior guard and 10-points-per-game scorer Ben Snider was injured in practice in January's second week and hasn't returned.
Still the Tigers, based in Madisonville, Tenn., own a 15-8 record.
"We don't have a star player, but we're physical and we play hard against a good schedule," Raby said. "We should have won the National Christian College Athletic Association regional, but Alice Lloyd shot 35 free throws to our nine."
Carolina Christian is getting 26 points and four assists a game from 6-5 sophomore point-guard Artavius Love.
"Our most athletic player and one of our best shooters," said Spates, who has seen 6-2 freshman Austin Robinson average 20 points and three assists.
Three other freshmen also start. Six-foot Jonathan Cunningham, a 3-point threat, is logging 15 points. Six-seven Christian Jones authors 12 points and eight rebounds, 6-2 Gerod Johnson four points and four boards.
Raby noted that it'll be a matchup of contrasts.
"We have five or six guys averaging from eight to 12 points," he said.
Dess Johnson is averaging 12 points to 11 each for 5-11 senior point-guard Marius Williams and 6-2 senior shooting guard Jay Cade. Johnson, a 6-8 senior, is averaging almost nine rebounds and blocking three shots a game. Senior power forward Tevin Henry is described as "very athletic."
The rival coaches are familiar with each other.
"Knowing Tony as I do, his kids play hard and get after it," said Raby.
"We don't play Hiwassee during the regular season, but I have a good relationship with him from my days at Barber-Scotia College," said Spates. "We've split two games, so this will be a tie-breaker."