By Dan McGrath

A young, rebuilding basketball team will take its victories where it can find them. The Leo Lions demonstrated admirable resilience in earning two wins to close out the IC Catholic/Westmont Holiday Tournament during Christmas week after suffering close losses in the first two rounds.

Sensing that a three-point defeat by Willowbrook and a two-pointer against Taft could just as easily have gone their way, the Lions (5-9) took out their frustration on overmatched South Shore on Friday with an 86-36 drubbing that was essentially over after Leo scored the first 20 points of the game.

Coach Jamille Ridley did his best to employ restraint, disdaining a press, playing mostly zone defense and making sure all 10 players who dressed got significant minutes. Eight of them scored and four reached double figures: freshman Brian Kizer (19 points), junior Kam’ron Dove (18), junior Neil Anderson (14) and freshman Tyrell Keys (10).

A morale-builder, perhaps, but the romp may also have lulled the Lions into a false sense of security. After playing about as poorly as they have all season in Saturday’s first half against Reavis, they needed a desperate second-half comeback to survive the Rams, 51-48.

Reavis (8-7) went up 10 at the half (30-20) as 6-foot-1 forward Yigit Akunglu parlayed constant movement and offensive ingenuity into 19 points, outmaneuvering any Leo defender who tried to impede him.

But foul trouble forced Akunglu to the bench for much of the third quarter. The Lions used a 10-0 run to pull even, and the fourth quarter was a back-and-forth scramble in which neither team led by more than three points until Stephen Barze threw down a breakaway dunk off an inbounds play to put Leo up 49-45 with 12 seconds left.

As the Lions celebrated, Akunglu knocked down a three-pointer from the top of the key for 49-48, finishing with a game-high 27 points. Reavis immediately fouled Karon Shavers, and the freshman calmly drained both free throws for the 51-48 final. 

Shavers, in fact, made eight straight free throws on his way to a team-high 16 points. Juniors Barze (12) and Marlo Moore (nine) produced 21 of Leo’s 31 second-half points in driving the comeback.

“I see some good things that I really like, but we’ve got to be more consistent,” Ridley said. “We’re wishy-washy, in and out—we’re good, then we’re bad. We’ve got to decide what kind of team we want to be and come out with the same mind set and the same focus every night.”

Next up for the Lions: Carver Military Academy (6-7) in a shootout at St. Rita on Wednesday, Jan. 3.

“I keep telling the guys that as long as the effort and the fight are there, we’ll be all right,” Ridley said. “And I can’t complain about that. We’re getting there.”