The Leo Lions hadn’t lost a basketball game since falling to Morgan Park in the the title round of the Big Dipper holiday tournament on Dec. 29, 2017.
Seven weeks, 13 games, 13 W’s. They hadn’t lost in calendar year 2018.
Perhaps a letdown was inevitable, and it came at the worst possible time—in the championship game of the IHSA Class 2A Regional at Chicago’s Marshall High School on Friday, Feb. 23.
Marshall 61, Leo 58. Season over.
You’d like to say Leo got hosed by the refs or the breaks didn’t go its way or offer some other feeble excuse, but it would be pointless. Marshall outplayed Leo.
The Lions couldn’t get anything going through the first three quarters. Anything.
The feisty Commandos, meanwhile, practically sneered at Leo’s Catholic League White Division title, 20-5 record and No. 6 ranking in the Chicago Sun-Times area poll. They played with the fearless urgency for which West Side teams are known. They were on every loose ball. They held their own on the boards with the taller Lions. They kept a fresh defender on Fred Cleveland and hounded Leo’s leading scorer for 94 feet all evening, wearing him down.
Leo somehow was within five midway through the third quarter, only to have Marshall close the period on a 12-0 run to lead 46-29 heading into the fourth. Then and only then did the Lions come to life.
Malcolm Bell started hitting three-pointers. DaChaun Anderson gobbled up everything inside. An aggressive press forced Marshall into several ball-handling errors. Leo ran off the first 16 points of the final period to get back in the game, then grabbed a 58-56 lead on Bell’s three-point play with 1:20 left.
But the Lions couldn’t seal the deal. In fact, they wouldn’t score again. Marshall went back up 59-58 when Eddie Skipper threw in an impossible three from the corner. Dequan Brown disrupted Leo’s next possession with a steal and fed Xavier Johnson for a breakaway layup that put the Commandos ahead 61-58 with 28 seconds left.
The Lions had good looks on three three-pointers in the time remaining, but couldn’t get one to go down. The horn sounded as Cleveland’s final attempt bounced off the rim. There were tears aplenty in the Leo locker room.
“We had a great season, but this is tough because we all expected it to go farther,” Coach Shawn Frison said. “I’m very proud of this team—we definitely elevated the program this year. That’s why it leaves a sour taste to go out this way. We might be a better team than Marshall (9-17), but they were the better team tonight.
“I want to thank (seniors) Malcolm Bell and Daronte Jiles for being exemplary Leo Lions.”
Bell hit four three pointers in the final period, scoring 17 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth. DaChaun Anderson had 19 points and 17 rebounds. Cleveland’s nine points kept Leo in the game in the first half, but he managed just three in the second as Marshall’s heavy defensive pressure wore on him. The other five players Leo used managed just five points among them.
Brown had 18, Skipper added 15 and Johnson scored 10 for Marshall. Lamar Eskridge only scored seven points, but he he was a force inside with 11 rebounds and six blocks.
The good news for Leo is that seniors Bell and Jiles are the only departing players. All-Catholic League performers Cleveland and DaChaun Anderson will return for their senior year, as will fellow juniors Myles Thomas and Rod-Shad Woods and sophomores Jadon Williams and Kendale Anderson.
“I hope our young guys learn from this,” Frison said. “This is not the feeling you want to have at the end of a season.”
IHSA Class 2A Regional at Marshall High School
Feb. 20: Leo 63, DRW Trading Charter 33
Feb. 23: Marshall 61, Leo 58
Season record 20-6; Overall Catholic League 9-2; Catholic League White Division 8-0.
The author apologizes for the delay in posting. Tough one to type.
Dan McGrath ’68, President
Leo High School