By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – Catholic University Head Coach Steve Howes loves NBA basketball and has a lot of contacts throughout the league. He sought their input recently prior to his team playing four games in eight days.
Their counsel paid off for the Cardinals, who won all four games during the stretch to expand their winning streak to six straight. Their latest triumph came Saturday when they went into Madison, N.J., and came away with a 74-55 victory over a Drew University team that was 4-1 in the Landmark Conference.
The Rangers (8-6, 4-2) entered the matchup averaging 81 points but were held to 38.1 percent shooting and 1 of 12 from 3-point distance until hitting two in the final 45 seconds. Their 55 points were a season low.
"Our defensive focus and intensity was our best all year," Howes said. "We've really grown up in our approach there and have developed a lot since the beginning of the season. Our team understood [Drew] was leading league in scoring and accepted the challenge."
Bryson Fonville paced the Cardinal victory with 26 points, and Austin Calling had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Kyle Phanord added 12 points, all on 3-pointers, and the Cards (12-3, 6-0) left Baldwin Gymnasium tied for first in the Landmark Conference.
Kevin-Michael Miller made all six of his field goal attempts and led the Rangers – who are still the third-best team in the league – with 13 points. Mike Klinger scored 10 points, and Kevin Herring II accounted for nine points and four rebounds.
Klinger came into the game leading the conference in scoring at 20.2 points per game but faced constant pressure from Phanord. Calling, 6 of 8 shooting, added four blocks and two steals.
"Austin's defensive effort was outstanding," Howes said, "and Kyle did a great job on his man."
The Cardinals began their four-in-eight march when Fonville hit the game-winning shot in a 65-64 home victory over U.S. Merchant Marine Academy on Jan. 3. They followed it up Tuesday with a 62-56 victory at Elizabethtown (Pa.) and a 77-56 pounding of Goucher on Thursday.
CUA's Corey Stanford, who scored 26 points at Elizabethtown and had a career-high 19 rebounds vs. Goucher, was held to three points and five boards Saturday. Jay Howard produced 11 points, four boards and two steals. Both were saddled by foul trouble in the first half and limited to seven minutes each before halftime, which the Cardinals led 35-26.
"We're getting contributions from a variety of guys now," Howes said. "We played most of the first half without Corey and Jay and still expanded the lead with our bench."
Drew scored the game's first four points, but the Cards responded with a furious 18-4 run that Fonville kick-started with a 3 and capped with a jumper. The junior point guard made 12 of 20 shots, and the boys from Brookland wound not trail again.
CUA opened the second period on a 14-0 run that featured two trifectas, three layups and two free throws to lead by 23, 49-26, with 14:32 to go. The margin grew to 27 points on two Jeff Holland free throws before Drew tallied the game's final eight points.
The Cardinals succeeded on 55.8 percent from the floor and 46.2 beyond the arc. It made just 52.6 percent from the foul line, while the Rangers were a near-perfect 20 of 21 (95.2). CUA out-rebounded Drew 31-23 and had just nine turnovers while forcing 15.
Howes did not travel on the team bus Friday night because he was attending the jersey retirement ceremony for Roger Mason at Good Counsel High School in Olney, Md. Mason, who starred at Virginia and now works in the NBA Players Association office, finished his 10-year NBA career (and two overseas) last season with the Miami Heat. Howes was one of his coaches at Good Counsel and continued to help him perfect his game by working him out often.
Mason is the first Falcon boys basketball player to have his jersey (No. 21) retired.
"As good a player as Roger was, he's an even better person," Howes said. "I was honored to share in his much-deserved recognition at our alma mater."
Howes was a guest of Mason's and Coach Gregg Popovich at the San Antonio Spurs' training camp five years ago. The 11th-year Cardinal coach's extensive NBA connections include Washington Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Tommy Sheppard. CUA graduate Tim Connelly is general manager of the Denver Nuggets.
The Cards, who have won eight of their last nine, will meet fellow top-tier Landmark resident Scranton on Saturday Jan. 17. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Franny Murray Court. The homestanding Royals (12-2, 6-0) slipped past Goucher 68-67 on Saturday.
"It's Alumni Weekend and our students come back to school on Monday," Howes said, "so I hope we get a great crowd. We can use the break to get healthier and make some corrections."