The Catholic University men’s basketball team took a break from studying on its first night of final exams and traveled just over six miles to take on the Division I opponent Maryland Terrapins.
Going into the game, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gave the Division III Cardinals a slim 0.1% chance of defeating the Terps, but at the first timeout, Coach Steve Howes’ team ran back to the bench with a 12-7 lead.
The spirited start from the visitors carried on, as Catholic held a 20-18 with 9 minutes left in the first half before Maryland’s bigger and more talented team eventually pulled away for a 75-59 victory. But it was a performance that Catholic’s team and fans should take pride.
“I think I should have asked one of the assistants to pinch me at the end of the second media timeout, because I thought I was dreaming a little bit,” Howes said in reference to his team’s 17-16 lead eight minutes into the game. “I’m really proud of our young men. I thought they competed.”
Dealing with the likes of Maryland’s 7’1” Michal Cekovsky and 6’9” Ivan Bender, senior Jay Howard led Catholic with a game-high 20 points on 9-18 shooting and 7 rebounds. Sophomore Riley Hayes also shot an impressive 50 percent from the field and finished with 14 points. Junior Jimmy Golaszewski knocked down three 3-pointers on his way to 11 points to give the Cardinals three double-digit scorers.
Howes should be happy with his team’s efforts on the glass, as Maryland only out-rebounded Catholic 40-33 in the contest, despite Catholic’s tallest starters being Howard and Hayes, who stood at 6’4” and 6’8”, respectively. The Terrapins were without three of their main players, Justin Jackson, Dion Wiley, and Bruno Fernando due to injury or sickness, but Maryland coach Mark Turgeon took nothing away from the Cardinals’ effort.
“I can’t explain it,” Turgeon said. “I just think they were much more prepared and excited to play the game than our guys were.”
Howes, a Washington native and long-time Maryland fan, watches plenty of the Terps’ games and was familiar with the challenge he was facing at the Xfinity Center at College Park. It was no surprise, then, that he called for zone defenses all evening. It compensated for the size differences between players, and Maryland has exhibited lingering problems dealing with the zone. It kept the Division III Cardinals in the game, and the halftime score showed 37-31 in Maryland’s favor.
“I think that first half was definitely the best basketball we have played all season,” Howard said. “I think our guys were laser focused and really locked in.”
A quick 16-4 run to begin the second half put Maryland up by 18 and allowed them to cruise to a 76-59 victory, but the visitors kept the deficit respectable. Catholic has taken on a number of premiere Division I programs over the last several years, including a trip to Notre Dame for an exhibition last season. The Fighting Irish took care of the Cardinals, 103-48, in that November, 2016 contest, but Catholic was very satisfied with how it hung tough with a Maryland team that competed in last season’s NCAA Tournament as a 6 seed.
Senior Billy Barnes commented on his team’s resilience after the game.
“We proved in the first half that we could hang with Maryland’s size and athleticism,” Barnes said. “In spite of the run they made, we continued to play with the same energy and focus throughout the rest of the second half which enabled us to keep it close.”
The location of the game allowed a number of Catholic students to come and root on their team, and the players appreciated it. After Howard made his first five shots of the game, he gestured towards a group of Catholic fans who were fired up about their team’s early lead. With an announced 12,540 fans, it was a different scene than the usual crowd at the DuFour Center.
“It meant so much playing in a gym like that in front of fans and friends rooting for us,” Howard said. “I will never forget that.”
Catholic, now 2-5, will host another D.C. area opponent in Gallaudet University on Saturday, December 16 at 4 PM.