By Chris McManes
View photos from Saturday's game
WASHINGTON – In the NCAA Tournament, seniors either step up or they go on spring break. Catholic University's seniors stepped up.
"It's March; it's win or go home, and we don't want to go home right now," said Cardinal senior Shawn Holmes, who scored 16 points to help lead CUA to a 67-61 victory over the College of Staten Island in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
The win, before an energetic crowd of 1,132, sends the No. 9 Cards to a second-round date with No. 8 Williams College. The Ephs (24-4) advanced with a 79-78 home win over Wesley College. The game will either be in Williamstown, Mass., or the nation's capital.
The Cardinals don't care where they play; they're grateful to still be playing.
"With the W, this is a great place to spend spring break," Holmes said.
Senior Nate Koenig scored a team-high 19 points and collected nine rebounds. His four free throws in the final 32.6 seconds sealed the Cards first NCAA Tournament victory since 2007. Senior Chris Kearney had just eight points and three rebounds, but he took a charge at the 38.3-second mark when the Cardinals were clinging to a two-point lead.
"That was a real gutsy charge to take with four fouls," Koenig said. "But he stepped up and took it anyway, took it right in the chest. That's what we've been doing all year, just trying to survive. We want to keep playing."
CUA's freshman point guard Bryson Fonville added 12 points and four assists. Sophomore Steve Limberiou totaled nine rebounds.
Jon Chadwick-Myers scored a game-high 21 points for Staten Island (22-6), but was held to five in the second half. Bloochy Magloire, who entered the contest averaging 21.7 points, was held to 14 points on 5-for-17 shooting. He was 3 of 10 from beyond the stripe and the Dolphins went 5-for-20.
Kearney lived up to his Landmark Conference Player and Defensive Player of the Year awards by taking a charge in the lane against Magloire with the Cardinals on top by just 61-59. With less than 33 seconds on the clock, Koenig stepped to the line and sank two free throws to put the Cards up by four. After a missed jumper from the wing by Chadwick-Myers, Koenig tracked down the rebound, was fouled and hit two more charity stripers.
"The first one [of four] came off my hand a little weird, so I was a little worried about that one, but after that I was calm," said Koenig, CUA's leading free throw shooter (85.4 percent). "Once I got that first one, they all felt pretty good."
Holmes punctuated the scoring with two more foul shots with less than four seconds remaining. He tallied the game-winning field goal last week in the Cardinals' 63-62 victory over Juniata in the Landmark championship. He, Koenig and Kearney have carried the Cards this season, leading by a ferocious work ethic.
The trio's hard work is most apparent defensively, where the Cardinals rank sixth in the nation in scoring defense (57.4 ppg).
"They don't want the season to end," CUA Coach Steve Howes said. "They have done a great job all year of instilling a win-now mentality, and that carried through tonight."
Tied at 48, the Cardinals exploded for 10 straight points to assume a 58-48 advantage with 8:42 to play. Freshman Kevin Phanord got things going with the way championship teams win – on defense. He turned a steal into an uncontested layup and took a pass from Holmes for another layup, this one in traffic.
Holmes, a speedy right-handed combo guard, then stole the ball and went hard to the basket and made an off-balance layup from the left side. After the Cards forced a shot-clock violation, he hit a 17-foot jumper. Holmes punctuated the outburst with a driving baseline jumper.
The Dolphins answered with an 8-1 run to constrict the CUA margin to three, 59-56. Fonville's two free throws with 3:29 to play pushed the lead back to five. A Magloire trey from the right wing made it 61-59. Following two missed shots by Koenig and one by CSI's Javon Cox, the Cardinal seniors took over.
"We're good defensively because we stop dribble penetration, we're good because we contest shots, we're good because we get back in transition defense," Howes said. "We didn't play that well defensively in the first half" – which ended in a 36-36 tie – "but we did in the second half."
Despite the vast majority of CUA's students having departed campus for spring break, including the Redbird baseball team that stood and cheered throughout the Cardinals' win over Juniata, the fan support was tremendous – and loud.
Five members of CUA's 2001 National Championship team – Most Outstanding Player Pat Maloney, Will Morley, Matt Hilleary, Andy Rice and Blair Mills – attended the game, as did their coach, Mike Lonergan, his wife Maggie and their five children.
"What makes it special is that Cardinal Nation was out in full force tonight with the students on break," Howes said. "It was just tremendous support. It was great to see so many of the National Championship team here and so many other former players.
"For [George Washington University] Coach Lonergan to come over after his game means the world to our guys. To have all those guys show up and care is what makes this truly a basketball family throughout the ages."