WASHINGTON – Senior Bryson Fonville was not going to be denied in what could have been the final home game of his illustrious career.
The acrobatic All-American from Greensboro, N.C., scored a game-high 33 points and was nearly flawless handling the ball to lead Catholic University to an 83-80 victory over No. 16 Susquehanna in the Landmark Conference championship game at DuFour Center on Saturday night.
"Knowing it's your last run, your last chance to leave a legacy for yourself and your class, we wanted it extremely bad," Fonville said. "We worked hard all four years and all this year to get to this point, and now that we're here, we're going to grasp the opportunity as strong as we can."
Kyle Phanord hit five 3-pointers en route to 17 points and added four rebounds, three assists and three steals. Corey Stanford had 11 points and eight rebounds, and Jay Howard produced 11 points, seven boards and two blocks.
After beginning the season 3-3, CUA has won 19 of 21.
"This team has the heart of a champion," Cardinal Coach Steve Howes said. "They never pointed fingers, never stopped putting the effort in, and that's what you want out of every group. This senior class willed it to happen."
Fonville added seven assists and three steals, and only committed one turnover. He shot 10 of 20 from the field and 13 of 15 from the line. The reigning Landmark Player of the Year played all 40 minutes for the second straight game and was named tournament MVP.
True to his nature, he deflected the praise.
"It feels amazing, but like any individual award, without my teammates I wouldn't really get it," he said. "With them trusting me and taking some of the shots I do, sometimes they might be a little off-balance – bad shots – but my teammates always give me the confidence to take them and pull me up when I'm down.
"So I couldn't thank them more."
Howes has no trouble praising Fonville.
"He's a quiet young man, but he is a warrior," Howes said. "And so many times coming over to the bench [tonight], he was just exhorting the guys, 'We're not losing, we are not losing this.' His spirit and the twins' [Kyle and Kevin] really just epitomizes what this whole group is about."
The Cards fell behind by 12 points early but rallied to go into the break only down 36-34. The Crusaders scored the first basket of the second half and then fell victim to a Fonville-fueled 7-0 run.
First, Fonville fed Kyle Phanord with a behind-the-back pass that the Davie, Fla., resident turned into a 3-pointer right in front of the CUA bench. Howard scored in the paint, and then he and Fonville blocked layup attempts on consecutive Susquehanna possessions. Fonville punctuated the surge with a layup to put the Cardinals ahead 41-38.
After the Crusaders tied it, the Cards countered with an 8-0 outburst that included a 3 by Kyle and a steal and layup by Fonville. Kyle said the team's defense, which his brother Kevin ignites whenever he enters the contest, was much better in the second half.
"We were a lot more focused," he said. "I think early in the game when they jumped out on us, we were a little nervous and had to get the butterflies out of our stomach. After we took their best shot, we knew we were in the game."
Senior Josh Miller had 32 points and eight rebounds for Susquehanna (23-4), which is expected to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA playoffs. He scored 15 points in the final 39 seconds to turn CUA's 12-point lead into the much closer final margin. He finished 9 of 16 overall, 5 of 7 from beyond the arc and made all nine of his free throws.
Dan Weiss contributed 14 points, and senior Brandon Hedley had 10.
Hedley, from nearby Silver Spring, Md., converted just 3 of 11 field goals and had three turnovers vs. one assist. He fouled out with 18 seconds remaining. He referenced the Cardinals' 101-80 win over Susquehanna on Jan. 27 when he told the Daily Item newspaper before the game, "It's payback. It's my hometown, so we're going to D.C. to go take it."
With his CUA predecessor – George Washington Coach Mike Lonergan – looking on, Howes said his team used the quotation as motivation to add to its regular-season Landmark title.
"We have just had a poise and a toughness all year," he said. "Even when people wanted to write us off after a tough start, this group never stopped putting the effort in, never stopped believing, never stopped listening.
"We didn't talk about [winning] like they did in the papers. We just let our actions speak."
The message was received, the mission is not accomplished.
by Chris McManes