By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – Catholic University returned to its winning form Wednesday night in a Landmark Conference Tournament semifinal. Now it gets to return to the championship game.
Jay Howard's 21 points led four players in double figures, and the No. 19 Cardinals outran Drew 79-53 on Franny Murray Court. CUA will host Scranton on Saturday at 4 p.m. with an NCAA Division III Tournament bid on the line.
"It's another opportunity for the program to play in a championship game and another opportunity to guarantee an NCAA berth," CUA Coach Steve Howes said. "Every year our goal is to win 20 games and go to the NCAA Tournament.
"We have one of those goals achieved and now hopefully Saturday we can lock the other one up."
Corey Stanford scored 15 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds for the Cardinals, who improved to 22-4. Bryson Fonville added 14 points, seven assists and five boards, while Kyle Phanord used 4 of 8 shooting from 3-point land to finish with 14 points.
The Cardinals had their running game going in high gear in the first half and bolted to a 25-8 lead in a game they never trailed. They forced the Rangers to play at a pace they found difficult to maintain.
"We played at a really good pace, and that's why they went zone," Howes said after his team shot 52 percent in the first half and 58 percent thereafter. "I thought we were very good in the open floor tonight."
CUA displayed its athleticism on four plays in the final 6:24 of the half. First, Phanord, one of the smallest players on the court at 5-foot-11, kept alive a rebound that Stanford collected in the lane and scored on.
Then the 6-3 Howard blocked two driving layups. On the first, he smashed to the floor a drive by 6-8 Ozan Yucetepe. Jason Huelbig received a less-emphatic but equally effective rejection less than a minute later.
The blocks sandwiched a 360-degree spin in the paint that enabled Howard to free himself for a layup.
The Cards took a 39-19 lead into the break and opened the second half with two Phanord threebies to extend the margin to 24 points. They withstood a 12-1 run a short time later that brought Drew to within 50-36. Howard then scored inside, Stanford had another follow shot and Fonville dropped in a runner.
Howard, almost a lock to be named Landmark Rookie of the Year, added six rebounds, the two blocks and two steals. He shot 8 of 15 from the field, and Stanford and Fonville were 6 of 11 each. Phanord finished 5 of 9, and Austin Calling was 3-for-5 for seven points, four boards and two blocked shots.
Cardinal Louis Khouri was very productive in his 10 minutes off the bench. The sophomore guard from Alexandria, Va., had six points, five rebounds and two steals.
Huelbig paced Drew (12-14) with 16 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Yucetepe, a junior from Turkey, scored 14 points and hit four of his team's 10 3-pointers.
CUA enjoyed a huge advantage on the boards, 45-26, and limited the Rangers to 33 percent shooting. It reminded of the way the Cards played during their 15-game winning streak, which Scranton (21-5) snapped Saturday.
The Cardinals won the 2013 Landmark Conference championship, and the Royals took the crown last year. The teams split their two games in 2014-15.
"This is the reason we worked so hard in the preseason and during the regular season," Phanord said. "We couldn't ask for more than the chance to go back to the NCAA Tournament."