By Dan McGrath

“If you guys ever wonder why we run all the time,” Leo Coach Jamal Thompson was telling his team in a victorious postgame locker room Friday night, “it’s for moments like these.”

The Lions (3-0) had just polished off a 61-52 win over Providence Catholic that required overtime when the Celtics closed out regulation on a 7-0 run over the last 1:45, tying the game at 49 on Sean Meeks’ putback of a Jack Wajda miss with 1.5 seconds remaining.

But the effort Providence had expended to get that far clearly took a toll. The extra session was all Leo. Jakeem Cole, who’d been scoreless through three periods, knocked down a three-pointer and went 6-for-6 at the foul line as the Lions outscored the weary Celtics 13-2 for a victory that carried a much higher degree of difficulty than the 11-point final margin might suggest.

Providence was big enough and the Leo gym small enough that the Celtics could contest every pass and every shot out of their 1-3-1 zone, limiting the Lions to 40 percent shooting (19-for-48). And let the record show that Leo’s five-year-old furnace was in perfect working order—the Lions Den was a sweatbox, and only seven Celtics played, so fatigue likely was a factor in their overtime futility.

Most of Providence’s offense came from Wajda, a burly, back-to-the basket, Clyde Lovellette-type center (ask your grandfather) who has enough of the modern in his game to knock down two three-pointers while compiling 24 points. 

Leo achieved better balance with Cole scoring all of his team-high 15 points in the fourth period and in overtime, each of his three three-pointers more timely than the last. Austin Ford also scored 15 while taking down 10 rebounds. Sophomore Christian Brockett was the focal point of Leo’s defensive effort with four steals while contributing six assists with just two turnovers as the primary ballhandler against the Providence zone.

But the player of the game may well have been Keeland Jordan, a spaghetti-thin, 6-foot-5 junior with long arms, springy legs and good timing. Jordan came off the bench to give the Lions 12 points (on 6-for-9 shooting), 11 rebounds and a better chance against a Providence lineup that out-sized them at every position.

“Keeland was huge for us,” Thompson said. “We constantly tell the guys, ‘Be ready. You never know when your turn is going to come and it’s going to be your night.’ Tonight was his night, and he was ready. 

“Total team effort.”

The Lions will need more of the same on Sunday when they face Public League powerhouse Curie in the Team Rose Shootout at Mt. Carmel at 5 p.m.