By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – Playing with a big lead is not always easy. Players tend to relax, focus wanes and coaches substitute more than usual. Consequently, huge margins tend to shrink.
Catholic University did not fall into that trap Saturday afternoon in Bethlehem, Pa. The Cardinals outscored Moravian by 15 in the first half and by 25 in the second. When the thrashing ceased, it added up to 78-38 victory over the Greyhounds.
CUA, a charter member of the Landmark Conference since its 2007 formation, continued its best start ever in the league and improved to 17-3 and 11-0.
"We're just playing very unselfishly," Cardinal Coach Steve Howes said. "We're willing to lay out maximum effort for each other, and that leads to team success."
The triumph makes CUA the first team in the conference to clinch a berth in the four-team Landmark Tournament – with five games to play. The Cards' 11-game winning streak is their longest since they opened the 2011-12 season with 11 straight victories.
Kyle Phanord paced the Cardinal offense with 17 points (12 on 3-pointers) and grabbed seven rebounds. Corey Stanford had 16 points, eight boards and three steals, and Jay Howard chipped in 10 points. The Cards had such a huge lead for most of the day that Howes rested his freshman sensation Howard, limiting him to a season-low 19 minutes.
It didn't matter.
"From the start of practice, I've loved our competitiveness, our effort and our willingness to put in the work and make the sacrifices to play for each other," Howes said. "I hope for all the good things we're doing that we have enough success so [the players] can see this is how you play."
Howes, in his 11th year at his alma mater and having notched career win No. 200 on Jan. 8, witnessed a gem Saturday.
CUA, on top 17-13, seized control by outscoring Moravian 17-6 to take a 34-19 lead into halftime. Freshman reserve guard Billy Barnes, who tallied a career-high eight points, scored the final five points of the half on a deuce and a trey.
Instead of letting off the gas or going into cruise control, the Cardinals accelerated out of the locker room.
"I loved our mindset to start the second half," said Howes, who assumed CUA's head coaching duties when George Washington Coach Mike Lonergan left in 2004 to become an assistant under Gary Williams at Maryland. "We were very focused even though we had a lead."
The Cards held the Greyhounds scoreless for the first 4:41 of the half and, with five 3-balls, including two by Phanord, the lead reached 58-20 with 13:12 to play. CUA didn't shoot particularly well (28 of 65), but hounded Moravian (4-15, 2-8) into a 14-for-57 effort.
"I was thrilled with the defensive presence and focus we had in both halves," Howes said. "We didn't shoot the ball particularly well, but anytime you can hold a team to under 25 percent field goal shooting, you have to be proud of your team."
The Greyhounds' Izel Dickerson (seven points) and Jarrod Dilts (six points, eight rebounds) were a combined 4 of 20 from the floor. Brandon McGuire shot 2-for-8, and Ryan O'Neill missed all eight of his shots off the bench.
"Jay did a tremendous job on Dilts, and Kyle did a great job on Dickerson," Howes said.
Phanord also took over much of the point guard duties for Bryson Fonville, who got into early foul trouble and played a season-low 14 minutes. Still, the quick-handed and quick-footed Fonville had three steals and 10 assists.
"Kyle came in and ran the team and was really flawless that way," the Cardinal bench boss said.
Howes was pleased to reward Barnes and rookie Brian Seward with more playing time for their fine work in practice of late. Barnes, whose father starred at nearby St. John's College High School in the late 1970s and later at William & Mary, played 13 minutes. Seward (four points, five boards, two blocks) logged nine minutes.
"They really helped us build the lead," Howes said. "They've both practiced well."
Barnes and Seward are part of the Cards' scout team, the unit that mimics the opposition in practice. Other members include frosh Matt MacKinnon, Jason Geter and Will Turner, as well as the Cardinals' lone senior, Shakir Evans.
"They played good defense and shared the ball," Howes said, "and I was happy they performed as well as they did."
Howes began to think the 104th edition of CUA's tradition-laden basketball program could be special after it won two games over quality opposition in the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic, Nov. 21 and 23. He also credits his captains, Kyle and Kevin Phanord, for keeping the Cardinals humble, hungry and not concerned about individual accolades.
"We've been very focused and tremendously tough," he said. "We have fantastic captains who set the tone with our preparation. If you prepare well, then typically success will follow."
Notes – CUA's Austin Calling paced all rebounders with nine to lead the Cards rebounding advantage, 50-36. … Louis Khouri had eight points, six rebounds, two assists and a block. … The CUA bench scored 29 points to Moravian's 16 and won the transition game, 14-0. … The Cards' dished 20 assists on their 28 baskets. … CUA will play at DuFour Center for the first time since Jan. 20 when it welcomes Elizabethtown (Pa.) to Franny Murray Court on Wednesday. Tipoff is 7 p.m. The Cardinals have won five in a row on the road.
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) has been affiliated with CUA basketball for 30 years.