By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – University of Scranton Coach Carl Danzig said before Saturday's Landmark Conference showdown at DuFour Center that he thought it would be a close game. He was right, although for much of the game it wasn't close at all.
Catholic University built a 19-point lead and withstood a late flurry to beat the 24th-ranked Royals 71-65 on Franny Murray Court. The victory perches the Cardinals (13-3, 7-0) atop the Landmark, a game ahead of Scranton (12-4, 6-1).
"We knew they were going to make a run and we just needed to handle the adversity, and we did," CUA Coach Steve Howes said. "I'm excited to see how we continue to grow as a group and improve as a team."
Jay Howard scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the first half, and Bryson Fonville had 16 of his 18 points after halftime to pace the Cardinals to their seventh-straight victory. Corey Stanford was limited to four points but paced all rebounders with nine, all on the defensive end.
"We've got a pretty lethal three-headed monster there, and any one of them can explode at any time," Howes said. "Jay had the first half and Bryson the second. And Corey, despite struggling from the field, controlled the defensive glass and impacted the game that way."
CUA's Kyle Phanord chipped in 15 points and hit four huge free throws late when the outcome was still very much in doubt. Austin Calling was 5 of 7 from the floor and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
Brendan Boken paced the Royals with 16 points and eight boards, and Justin Klingman did all of his scoring in the second half to finish with 15 points.
Ross Danzig, the reigning Landmark Player of the Year, had 14 points, six rebounds and three assists, but was held to 5 of 14 shooting. The senior and one of Coach Danzig's two sons on the squad was just 1 of 6 from 3-point range.
Brian Farrell (10 points) scored eight straight points midway through the second half to spark a 13-1 run that pulled Scranton to within seven, 55-48, with 5:55 to play. Fonville then found Calling under the basket for CUA's first field goal in nearly five minutes, but Boken answered with two free throws.
Fonville nailed a jumper from the wing and, following a Klingman trey from the top of the key, Calling drove the baseline for a layup to give the Cards some breathing room, 61-53, at the 3:44 mark. But the game was far from complete.
Danzig converted two from the foul line, and Fonville followed Calling's rebound basket attempt with a putback and was fouled. His ensuing free throw made it 64-55 CUA. After Klingman hit a layup, the Cardinals missed four straight foul shots but the Royals were unable to take advantage. Fonville tracked down Danzig's errant trey from the right corner for his eighth rebound, and CUA hit seven of its final nine charity stripers to claim victory.
Phanord sank four in a row in the final 36.7 seconds, the last two after a Klingman runner had made it a four-point game, 67-63, with just 13.5 second to go.
"Kyle's free throws were clutch," Howes said. "It's great to see your captain reward your confidence in him by making four big ones."
Fonville closed the scoring with a pair of freebies
Carl Danzig was proud of his team's comeback, particularly since it was playing without its starting point guard, Kevin Doolan, who broke an ankle in Scranton's 88-80 overtime loss at Ithaca College on Tuesday.
"We'll always play to the end and fight as hard as we can," Danzig said. "We got it close and just needed a few more things to go our way."
It was the Cardinals who had things going their way in the first 30 minutes of action between the longtime rivals and the league's only Catholic schools.
Howard scored CUA's first eight points and was 7 of 9 from the field in the opening 20 minutes. He had more than half of his team's points by halftime and the Cards held a 35-24 advantage.
"We knew he was a solid player," Danzig said, "and he showed it tonight."
The Cardinal bulge continued to grow and reached 15 points when Howard skied for a Fonville miss and put it back in for a 47-32 CUA lead. The cushion went to 54-35 on another Calling basket in the paint with 10:33 remaining.
That's when Farrell dropped in consecutive triples from the left corner and followed his own miss. Danzig punctuated the 13-1 outburst with a layup but missed a chance to further cut the deficit when he failed to convert the three-point play.
"We went through a defensive lull, and we have to learn how to lock down and extend the lead," Howes said. "But I'm proud of our intensity defensively and how unselfish we were offensively to have the lead grow as big as it did."
The acrobatic Fonville, who finished 6 of 16 shooting and 6 of 8 from the line, added three assists and two steals. Five of his buckets came in the second half.
"Bryson made so many tough, contested shots," Carl Danzig said.
The two clubs will square off again in Scranton, Pa., on Saturday Feb. 21.
"I love the games with Catholic and like competing against Steve [Howes]," the 14th-year Royal coach said. "They made their free throws tonight and answered our run, which good teams do."
CUA will continue Landmark play with a 7 p.m. tipoff against Juniata on Tuesday.
Notes – The Juniata game was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but DuFour Center is unavailable that night because the gym is used to house hundreds of students coming into town for the annual Youth Rally, Mass and March for Life. Thursday is the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. … When the ball Bryson Fonville shot and missed came to rest on top of the basket support early in the second half, Cardinal Louis Khouri took another ball and successfully dislodged in on his first try. He left the court to applause and a big smile on his face. … Neither team fared well from 3-point distance: CUA was 3 of 12 and Scranton 6 of 20. … The Cards held the edge on the glass, 36-27.