WASHINGTON – In a hard-fought, physical contest, No. 11 CUA (23-3) held off Merchant Marine Academy (14-12) 65-57 on Wednesday evening in a Landmark Conference Tournament semifinal inside the DuFour Center. Freshman Bryson Fonville hit for a career-high 21 points for the Cards, while senior Chris Kearney totaled a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds). CUA will now host Juniata for the 2013 conference title.
With their win tonight the Cardinals advance to their ninth conference title game in the last 13 seasons, their 11th in the last 16 seasons and their second since joining the Landmark Conference. Head Coach Steve Howes will be coaching in his fifth conference championship, having won a pair in 2006 and 2007.
Neither team shot particularly well in the game, with CUA hitting 39.3 percent from the floor, and USMMA shooting only 32.2 percent. The Cards also had a tough time at the free throw line, shooting 56.3 percent (18-32).
CUA once again was terrific in terms of ball security though, turning it over only eight times, while winning the rebound battle, 44-42.
CUA took an early seven-point lead on Kearney's layup at the 14:52 mark of the opening half, and Fonville followed with another layup to push the lead to nine.
USMMA cut it to a four-point game on Scott Dennin's basket with 12:19 to play before the half, but CUA scored four straight, capped by Fonville's jumper at the 9:35 mark to make it an eight-point spread.
Reed Buck sliced the lead to four with a basket with 3:28 on the clock, but Shawn Holmes answered with a bucket down the other end to give CUA a six-point advantage.
The back-and-forth continued with Josh Beck getting inside for a layup with 2:36 remaining to again make it a four-point game, and George Hatzioannides' jumper with 1:21 to play sent the teams into halftime with CUA ahead by only two.
The Cardinals came out of the break and ripped off eight straight points to open up a 10-point lead with 17:10 to play, but USMMA answered with a 12-5 run to pull within three.
Nick Sergio's free throw with 11:56 to play made it a two-point game, but CUA used an 8-0 run to again open up a double-digit advantage.
The Mariners made one final push, getting to within five on a pair of Buck free throws with 4:41 to play, but CUA never allowed its opponent to get any closer, and held on for its 13th straight home win this season.
Kearney led CUA with four assists, while Steve Limberiou was the leader in steals with three.
Buck scored 26 points for the visitors, while Sergio pulled down 10 boards. The Mariners shot just 23.5 percent from downtown, connecting on 4 of 17 shots.
CUA now moves into the Landmark Conference championship, where the Cardinals will meet Juniata on Saturday inside the DuFour Center. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.
CUA and the Eagles split their two meetings this season, with each team winning on its home floor.