Cardinals fall to Scranton 82-71 in conference title game

Cardinals fall to Scranton 82-71 in conference title game

SCRANTON, Pa. – CUA saw its championship dreams come to a close on Saturday after falling to Scranton 82-71 in the 2011 Landmark Conference title game in an action-packed contest.  CUA (19-7) trailed 53-48 with 9:53 to play, but the Royals (20-5) scored the next five points to go in front by 10 and were able to hold on and capture their third conference championship in the last four seasons.

After the Cardinals drew to within three early in the second half Scranton's Zach Ashworth scored six points in an 11-1 run to put the Royals on top, 53-40.  CUA seniors Jason Banzhaf and R.J. Dixon combined to scored the next eight points, but after Andy Roell missed a 3-pointer, Ashworth nailed one from the left wing.  A driving layup by Luke Hawk then gave the Royals a 58-48 advantage with 8:16 to play.

The Cardinals refused to go away though, showing why they were one of the last two teams standing with five straight points to close to within 58-53 with 6:27 on the clock after a Shawn Holmes three.

Ashworth was fouled on Scranton's next possession and after he sank a pair at the line it was a seven-point game.  A Matt Swaback 3-pointer next time down the floor for the Royals opened up a 63-53 advantage as the clock neared the five-minute mark.

The teams then traded field goals and free throws for the next few minutes making it difficult for CUA to cut into the Scranton lead. 

In the final 1:50, the Royals sank 11 of 12 free throws to hold off any hope of a Cardinals comeback.

Dixon led the Cardinals with 24 points on the evening, but the Charlotte native struggled with his shooting, connecting on only 1 of 10 3-point attempts.  Banzhaf netted 17 points and Chris Kearney added 11 and eight boards.  Dixon and Holmes combined for 11 assists and Kearney established his career-high with four steals.

Ashworth tied his career-high with 31 points in the game, which came on 8 of 16 shooting and a 12 of 12 performance from the free throw line.  The conference's Player of the Year scored 24 second half points and equaled his total from when the two teams met earlier this season in Washington.

Once again the Royals did it with their 3-point shooting, knocking down 10 trifectas on the night as well as 22 of 27 free throws.  Joining Ashworth in double figures were Hawk with 18 and Tim Lavelle with 12.

A large contingent of CUA fans made their way up to Pennsylvania for the game, including a bus full of students to support their Cardinals.  The arena was raucous and the environment electric right from the opening tip.

A Banzhaf basket and Roell 3-pointer right off the bat gave CUA a 5-0 lead and following another Banzhaf layup the Cardinals were up 7-2 in the early going.

Hawk's free throw at the 14:03 mark tied things at 10, but CUA scored the next eight points to go in front 18-10 with 8:23 to play before halftime. 

With the Cardinals leading 23-15 Scranton scored nine straight to take its first lead of the evening at 24-23, but Holmes answered for CUA with a jumper and CUA was back in front 25-24.

Farrell got inside for a basket to put Scranton on top by one, and the teams continued to go back and forth with Dixon splashing a jumper down the other end for a 27-26 Cardinals lead.

Ashworth then hit a big three to put the Royals on top by two, but Kearney answered with a slam off a feed from Roell to tie the game for the third time in the opening 20 minutes. 

Kearney swatted an Ashworth layup attempt to give the ball back to CUA and after Roell scored with 23 ticks remaining the Cardinals were on top by two.  But Scranton had the final say in the half with Farrell canning a 3-pointer just before the buzzer sounded to send the teams into intermission with CUA trailing by one, 32-31.

NOTES: With his 17 points on Saturday Banzhaf moved into fifth place all-time at CUA with 1,779 career points.  He now sits just ten points shy of moving into fourth and 15 shy of third place, which is currently occupied by John Winkler, who scored 1,793 points from 1982-86 … Dixon's eight rebounds tied his career-high, which he set earlier this season at Carnegie Mellon on December 1 … CUA will now wait to learn its postseason fate.  The 2011 NCAA Tournament and ECAC Tournament fields will be announced on Monday, February 28 … Saturday was CUA's 13th conference championship game appearance and first since 2007.  The Cardinals are now 8-5 all-time in title games.