By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON — Andre Mitchell might attend a New Year's Eve party Saturday night. On Friday, he and his Catholic University teammates celebrated his coming out party.
Mitchell scored a game-high 24 points to lead the Cardinals to an 81-70 victory over Stockton University in the championship game of the CUA-Holiday Inn College Park Classic. Coupled with his career-high 25 points in the semifinals, he was named tournament MVP.
"He was really good about taking what the defense gave him," Cardinal Coach Steve Howes said. "I was really proud of his mental toughness through all the pressure that they applied. He played 40 minutes today and 40 minutes yesterday. He's a tough kid.
"We're following his lead right now."
Jay Howard earned All-Tournament honors after scoring 41 points in the two games. In 38 minutes of action Friday, he had 13 points, four rebounds and five assists.
Khaliq Ford nailed 3 of 4 3-pointers for Stockton and finished with a team-high 19 points. Maurice Ford had 18 points and seven rebounds. Ford and point guard Tom Catanoso were named to the All-Tournament team. Catanoso didn't score Friday but handed out 10 assists.
Playing at a frenetic pace on Franny Murray Court at DuFour Center, both teams committed 22 turnovers. The Ospreys (6-5) sent CUA to the foul line 37 times, where they succeeded on 25.
"They're a very physical team," Mitchell said. "The refs were letting us play, which was fine. They were trapping and pressing the whole game. When a team does that, you've just got to try to stay together and not turn the ball over.
"They turned us over a lot, but we're happy to come away with the win."
So is Howes.
"This is a talented team," he said. "What I like about this group is we're disappointed that we're not 11-0. They're hungry and they're really good about coming into practice and trying to get better each day."
The Cardinals led nearly the entire contest and took a 40-33 lead into halftime. After Ford hit a jumper to trim the CUA margin to four, Howard scored inside off of a Mitchell assist. Howard returned the favor on the Cards' next possession when he found Mitchell at the top of the key for one of his four 3-pointers. The back-to-back buckets pushed the CUA advantage to 50-41 with 14:13 remaining.
Stockton got as close as six points but trailed by double digits from the 9:10 mark on. Three times the Cardinals (9-2) led by 18 points. Howes compared the game to CUA's 83-63 loss at undefeated Neumann on Dec. 10.
"We controlled that game for 30 minutes and then just lost our poise," he said. "Tonight, [Stockton] made some runs because they're a good team, but for the most part, we kept our poise and pushed that lead up to a sizable advantage late in the second half.
"I'm proud of the growth I've seen since that Neumann game."
Senior Jeff Holland logged a season-high 23 minutes, 15 in the second half. He tied his career high in points with nine by making 3 of 4 field goals and all three of his free throws. He handled the ball a lot late against the Osprey's relentless press and took the ball to the hoop.
"That was really good to see," Howes said. "I thought Jeff's minutes were really productive [Thursday] and super-productive today. He can be a real sparkplug offensively. He can shoot it. He can drive it. I like the fact he's driving the ball really well right now.
"He's relied in the past on his jump shooting. It's great to see him attack the rim because he is such a good free throw shooter when he gets fouled."
Following a Legend
Mitchell, a 6-foot-1 sophomore combo guard from Conshohocken, Pa., had three assists, five rebounds and four steals Friday. He was 7 of 13 from the floor.
He's averaging a team-high 35.8 minutes per game, 30 minutes more than last season. As a freshman, he spent most of his time watching Bryson Fonville, who now plays professionally for the Dallas Mavericks' NBA Development League team, the Texas Legends.
"Andre's role has expanded this year in Bryson's absence," Howes said.
Mitchell said he can't replace Fonville, a two-time All-American point guard and the eighth-leading scorer in school history (1,649 points).
"He's an All-American and a D-League starter now, so you're never really going to truly fill his shoes," he said. "We've got [freshman] Brandon [Easton] doing a great job at the point. Between the two of us, we're just trying to fill the point with two people right now."
NOTES – CUA's title was its 19th in the 30-year history of the tournament. … Ryan Kelley scored 25 points and Evan Slone 14 to pace Arcadia to an 88-77 victory over Dickinson for third place. The Knights improved to 6-5. Elijah Wright led the Red Devils (6-4) with 28 points. … The Cardinals won the rebounding battle, 35-30. Both squads hit eight 3-pointers. … CUA hosts Swarthmore on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 6 p.m.
Andre Mitchell, CUA (MVP)
Jay Howard, CUA
Khaliq Ford, Stockton
Tom Catanoso, Stockton
Ryan Kelley, Arcadia
Elijah Wright, Dickinson
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