By Chris McManes
ASHLAND, VA. – Catholic University battled gamely in its NCAA Division III Tournament game against top-ranked Randolph-Macon. But the talented and experienced Yellow Jackets were too much for the Cardinals to overcome.
Chris Hamilton scored 18 points and fellow senior Joe Hassell had 16 points, seven rebounds and four blocks to lead the Yellow Jackets to a 78-65 victory at Crenshaw Gymnasium. Junior Lamont Moore tallied 13 points and six boards off the bench.
Sophomore Corey Stanford produced game-highs in points (22) and rebounds (13) for the Cardinals (23-6). Junior Bryson Fonville added 19 points, and rookie Jay Howard had 17 points and seven boards. It was Stanford sixth double-double of the season and second straight in the NCAAs.
"We clearly battled and played very, very hard," CUA Coach Steve Howes said at the conclusion of his sixth 20-win season in 11 years. "But we were not able to get the depth of contributions that we needed today."
RMC (27-2), which starts four seniors and a freshman, trailed just once and succeeded on 56 percent of its field goals. It has won 24 straight games and will play in the third round of the tournament on Friday against the winner of the Amherst-St. John Fisher game.
"Their length and their physicality just gave us trouble," Howes said. "And then on top of that, they shot very well."
The Yellow Jackets led by 11 midway through the first half before the Cards began chipping away. Fonville, the Landmark Conference Player of the Year who was coming off a personal-high 38 points in CUA's NCAA playoff victory over Alvernia on Thursday night, hit a jumper with 23 seconds left to pull the Cardinals to within 35-30 at the break.
RMC came out of the locker room on a 10-4 surge to lead 45-34 on freshman Mike Silverthorn's 3-pointer from the left wing. The Cardinals trimmed the lead once again, and when Stanford notched a three-point play with 12:46 to play, CUA was down by just five.
But every time they would get close – a Fonville floater cut the margin to 54-48 – the Yellow Jackets would respond. Two Moore free throws put the advantage back to 10, and the dagger came when Hamilton nailed a trey in front of his bench and was fouled by Fonville. He completed the four-point play for a 66-52 lead at the 7:19 mark, and Randolph-Macon led by at least 10 points the rest of the way.
Stanford, 7 of 15 from the floor and 7 of 9 from the charity stripe, was proud that the Cards continued to play hard in front of 1,511 fans, most of whom were wearing the Yellow Jackets' black and gold.
"That was a heck of a play that [Hamilton] made and all the credit to him," Stanford said. "But I was proud that we didn't give up; that was the biggest thing. We kept fighting, kept fighting, kept fighting right to the end.
"No matter what, I love these guys and I'm proud of the effort we gave."
While RMC had assists on 21 of its 27 baskets – Marcus Badger collected seven – CUA produced just six assists on its 23 field goals.
"Our ball movement wasn't where it has been, and that was the biggest letdown for me," Howes said. "We played really hard, just not efficiently on offense."
The Cardinals, who won the Landmark Conference regular-season championship with a 15-1 record, including 15 straight, lose just one senior (Shakir Evans).
"We're going to miss Shak – he's one of the guys I looked up to from the moment I stepped on campus," – and I know that's the same with a lot of other guys," Stanford said. "We're going to miss him, but we all have it in our mind that we're going to come out and work hard and make it happen next year."
CUA's starting five returns, along with Landmark Defensive Player of the Year Kevin Phanord. The Cards will be looking for their 16th NCAA Tournament appearance next season and third in four years.
"On paper we return a lot," Howes said. "But that's meaningless if we don't believe in each other and put the time and effort in to back up that belief. So, the improvement season begins for [the players] in two weeks, once they refresh themselves physically and mentally."