By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – Coaches are renowned for worrying about their next opponent. Whether that team is good or not so good, they fret over how their club is going to perform.
Steve Howes was right to be concerned about how his Catholic University team would play against Juniata on Tuesday following its big victory over Scranton on Saturday – at least for the first 10 minutes.
The Cardinals fell behind by double digits early before righting the ship and winning going away, 74-59 over Juniata to retain the top spot in the Landmark Conference. CUA improved to 14-3 and 8-0 in league play by notching its eighth win in a row.
Bryson Fonville led the Cards' DuFour Center scoring parade with 23 points on 9 of 16 shooting. Jay Howard, who Monday was named Landmark Player of the Week, tallied 21 points and collected a game-high seven rebounds. The rookie phenom did most of his damage from the foul line by hitting 15 of 18, both career highs.
"Jay really battled inside and did an exceptional job at the free throw line," Howes said. "And down the stretch Bryson was really phenomenal. We set him up with a lot of isolation plays and he did things you can't teach."
Kyle Phanord added 18 points for the Cardinals by making 4 of 8 3-pointers and all six of his freebies.
The Eagles' Marcus Lee was 10 of 18 from the field and led all scorers with 26 points. No one else scored in double figures for Juniata (8-9, 2-6), which outshot the Cards, 53 to 51 percent.
The normally ball-protecting Cardinals committed five turnovers in the first five minutes and found themselves in a 14-3 hole. A Corey Stanford 3-pointer drew CUA to within seven before Brandon Drenning answered in kind to put Juniata up by 10, 18-8 with 9:48 to go until halftime.
Howes didn't like what he was witnessing on Franny Murray Court, named for the Cardinals' 68-year equipment manager.
"I was disappointed in our offense and defense, and our focus and intensity were awful," said Howes, who has been roaming the Cardinal sidelines for 11 years. "My concern for how we would play proved correct that first 10 minutes."
After Howard sank two from the line, Howes inserted guard Kevin Phanord (Kyle's twin brother) into the game. Kevin proceeded to grab a defensive rebound that led to Stanford finding Kyle for a successful 3-pointer. Kevin later assisted on back-to-back 3-balls – one by Fonville and one by Kyle – to give CUA its first lead of the night, 26-25.
The Cards outscored the Eagles 18-6 in the final 5:39 of the half and took a 38-29 lead into the break. The cushion didn't hold up as Lee hit two jumpers and Kyle Kohler (8 points) nailed a 3 to pull Juniata to within 38-36. Another Kohler trey made it 54-51 CUA with 9:03 to play.
Kyle Phanord, the Cardinals' leading 3-point shooter, then hit two free throws followed by consecutive triples to spur an 11-2 run that put the Cards ahead 65-53.
"Kyle had two huge 3s late in the second half to give us a cushion," Howes said. "He played an outstanding game."
Kevin Phanord logged a season-high 28 minutes and posted modest offensive statistics: four boards, two assists and a steal. He attempted just one shot and didn't score, proving you can have a major effect on the outcome of a game by playing ball-hawking defense and forcing teams out of their offensive comfort zone.
"Kevin raised our energy level and got us going defensively and out and running on offense," Howes said. "Kevin was tremendous; he really changed the game."
The Eagles, 7 of 12 beyond the arc, got another rainbow from Justin Fleming to narrow the deficit to seven at the 2:38 mark, but CUA rang up the game's final eight points (six by Fonville).
Notes – The Cards converted 17 Juniata turnovers into 24 points. … The Cardinals' 78 percent accuracy from the charity line (25 of 32) was a season best. Their previous high of 77 percent came on Nov. 21 vs. Gwynedd Mercy. … The DuFour Center gym will be changed into sleeping quarters Wednesday for hundreds of students arriving in town for the Thursday's annual Youth Rally, Mass and March for Life. The Juniata game was originally scheduled for Wednesday. … CUA will head to Kings Point, N.Y., to play the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy on Saturday at 4 p.m. The Cards close the regular season with six of their final eight contests on the road.