By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – The University of Scranton is going to the NCAA Division III Tournament. Catholic University will have to wait for a call from the selection committee.
The Royals shook free from an early seven-point deficit and held the No. 19 Cardinals to 29 percent second-half shooting in a 76-65 victory for the Landmark Conference championship at DuFour Center on Saturday afternoon.
"We certainly didn't play the way we have played all year," CUA Coach Steve Howes said. "I'm disappointed that we didn't execute better. We fought, we played hard, but we didn't execute. And clearly we didn't make shots, especially in the second half."
The Royals' win gives them the league's automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs. The at-large bids will go out Monday. Both teams are 22-5.
Junior forward Brendan Boken led the way for Scranton with a game-high double-double of 24 points and 12 rebounds. Freshman guard Ethan Danzig scored 14 points off the bench and sank four of the Royals' 10 3-pointers. Justin Klingman added 11 points.
Scranton, which won the league title last season, shot 50 percent from the field and 46 percent behind the line. It held the Cards to a 3 of 14 effort at 3-point range.
"We played really good team basketball today," Royal Coach Carl Danzig said. "I think our ball movement kept them off balance, and we made big shots at critical points in the second half when they were making little runs.
"Guys stepped up and hit some big 3's to kind of keep them off balance."
Corey Stanford paced CUA with 18 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Bryson Fonville and Jay Howard had 16 points and five rebounds apiece. Austin Calling contributed 11 points, eight boards and four blocks.
Leading 45-42, Danzig nailed a trey in front of the Scranton bench, took a charge from Howard and punctuated the spree with another 3 to put his team on top, 51-42, with 13:34 to play. Howard's foul put him on the bench with four. He returned with 11:02 remaining.
After Fonville went coast-to-coast with a steal, layup and subsequent free throw to trim the Scranton advantage to 59-52, the visitors scored six consecutive points to go up by 13. Howard then followed his own miss before an offensive foul sent him to the bench with his fifth personal at the 4:44 mark and the Royals holding a 67-55 lead. He finished 8 of 14 shooting.
The Cards led by as many as seven points in the first half, the last at 25-18. But Scranton rang off seven straight points to tie it before Fonville ended a nearly four-minute scoring drought with a baseline jumper off the dribble.
A left-corner trey by Kyle Phanord pushed the CUA lead to 30-25. Stanford hit another triple from the same spot before the Royals scored the final six points of the half on 3-pointers to take their first lead of the game, 37-35, into the locker room.
Ross Danzig, one of Coach Danzig's two sons playing for him, was held to 1 of 10 shooting and missed all seven of his triple tries. But the senior continually found teammates open and finished with seven assists. His father said he's been playing with a fractured left foot since the first game of the season and a broken right wrist since after Christmas.
"He averages almost five assists a game," Carl Danzig said. "He keeps making plays for people and that's the difference. We've been dealing with all year, and the kids are used to his ups and downs. He's a consummate team player."
Boken was 10 of 15 from the floor, with nearly all of his points coming in the paint.
"He played very well," Howes said. "I thought we battled, but the bigger thing was we didn't make them pay back on the [offensive] end inside. We missed way too many shots in there."
The Cardinals, who enjoyed a 15-game winning streak this season, will continue to play. They just don't know if it will be in the NCAA Tournament or the ECAC playoffs. They are practicing Monday.
"We'll be in the postseason, one tournament or another," Howes said. "Obviously we hope it's the NCAA Tournament."