By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – The bar is set pretty high for the No. 23 Catholic University men's basketball team. Not content just to win, the Cardinals strive to play hard and play smart and have the final score reflect that.
Mission accomplished Saturday.
CUA shot over 50 percent from inside and outside the bonus line and produced 14 steals in an 82-57 victory over Drew at DuFour Center. The win was the Cardinals' 13th in a row and boosts their record to 19-3 and 13-0 in the Landmark Conference.
CUA Coach Steve Howes credited his squad's preparation, particularly during Friday's practice, for the dominating performance.
"The preparation is so key to confidence, and this group has understood that from [the start of practice on] Oct. 15," Howes said. "It's a fun group to be around, and to watch them grow from a disappointing performance Wednesday to respond today was outstanding."
The Cards, who eked out a 68-65 win over Elizabethtown (Pa.) on Wednesday night, hit 29 of 57 shots (51 percent) Saturday and were 8 of 14 (57 percent) from 3-point range. Their defense forced 19 turnovers and held the Rangers to 34 percent from the field and 29 percent from treyville.
Forward Jay Howard helped keep the Cardinals perched atop the Landmark by scoring 21 points. He was 6 of 8 from the floor and 9 of 12 at the line, the latter reflective of how many times he drove or backed his way inside and drew contact. It was the eighth time this season the rookie from Pennsauken, N.J., has eclipsed the 20-point mark.
Junior point guard Bryson Fonville collected 17 points and five rebounds. He hit both of his 3s and shot 7-for-12. Sophomore post Corey Stanford had eight points and a game-high seven rebounds. His block of Drew's first shot and entry-pass steal helped set the defensive tone.
Reserve sophomore guard Louis Khouri, with many of his former teammates from Bishop Ireton High School in attendance, nailed all three of his 3-pointers to finish with 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals.
One of the most admirable attributes of this team is that it doesn't care who scores and whose name is up high in the stories. It is team success, not individual accolades that have driven the Cards to the fourth-longest winning streak in program history.
Fonville was asked what the key has been to CUA's accomplishments this season.
"I think it's just been our chemistry, how close we are together and keeping our energy level high," said Fonville, who entered the contest averaging 16.1 points, second to Howard's 16.3 "Whenever we play hard and tough, we succeed. It's not even always about the X's and O's and the offense.
"As long as we keep our energy level and play hard and play together, we've been successful."
Fonville and Howard combined to score the Cards' first 13 points, with all but Fonville's left-corner triple coming in the paint. The Rangers (10-12, 5-8) during this time managed just one bucket.
Khouri and Kyle Phanord (six points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals) dropped in back-to-back treys with just over five minutes to play in the first half to boost the CUA lead to 34-19. Stanford took the ball away from Robby Bier in the Cardinals' zone trap at the 3:30 mark, and he and Khouri closed the half with 3s from the left side to send CUA into the break with a 47-31 lead.
The bulge expanded to 59-33 as the Cardinals opened the second period with a 12-2 run. It reached 34 points when Austin Calling (four points, five boards, two helpers) took a Khouri drive-and-dish for an unobstructed slam dunk.
"We came focused [for practice] Friday to prepare for the game, and tonight we jumped on them early, then came out after halftime and gave up just two points in the first four minutes," Howes said. "From there we just extended the lead until the 12-minute mark."
Mike Klinger led Drew with 14 points by sinking 4 of 8 (2 of 3 beyond the arc) and all four of his free throws. Blaine Taylor shot 4 of 6 and was perfect in five tries from the line for 13 points and a team-best six rebounds.
After opening the year by dropping a 102-66 decision at Division I Davidson (N.C.) and losing center Ry'n Bland to a season-ending injury, CUA won four in a row before splitting its next four games. The Cardinals' winning streak began on Dec. 29 with an 87-68 victory over York (Pa.) in the CUA – Holiday Inn College Park Classic. Eight of the wins have come on Franny Murray Court and five on the road.
"After seeing the way we came together in the spring and the preseason," Fonville said, "I knew this year was going to be fun."
Junior twin guards Kevin and Kyle Phanord, who live in warm and sunny Davie, Fla., captain the white-hot Cardinals.
"I knew we had the talent, I just didn't know how quickly we would mature," Howes said. "The credit has to go to our captains for enforcing the culture since day one, and that's enabled this group to grow."
Notes – Shakir Evans was honored prior to the game during Senior Day festivities. The Syracuse, N.Y., resident – the only senior on the team – was accompanied by his parents Khaliph Bey and Priscilla Evans. "Shak" made 3 of 5 field goals for a career-high six points. … Five Cards recorded two steals, including freshman Jason Geter. … CUA heads to Goucher on Wednesday night in search of its 20th victory.
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) has written about Cardinal basketball since 1986.