By Dan McGrath
The Leo Lions needed a game like the one they played against Montini in Lombard on Friday, Jan. 21.
They needed to expunge the memory of a 24-point thumping they’d taken from highly regarded Hillcrest three nights earlier. And they needed to regain their mojo with top tier Catholic League rivals Loyola (16-6) and Mount Carmel (18-1) awaiting within the next week.
Senior Cameron Cleveland took it upon himself to take care of business, scoring 16 of his season-high 26 points in an electric third quarter as Leo (12-3, 7-0 Catholic League) pulled away to a 76-49 victory.
Cleveland put up nine of those points in the first two minutes of the period as the Lions opened with an 11-2 burst, stretching a five-point halftime lead into a 14-point advantage. Montini (5-11, 1-6) was game and gritty, but the Broncos didn’t have the firepower to catch up, and Leo was free to work on some things while doing a little stylin’.
“Good bounce-back win for us,” Coach Jamal Thompson said. “We played hard and we played well. The third quarter was a good example of breaking another team’s will.”
A patient, earnest team like Montini can cause problems if allowed to stick around, and the Broncos may have been thinking along those lines during a 10-10 first-quarter standoff in which they tried to replicate the 1-3-1 zone press Hillcrest had used to smother the Lions.
But a 1-3-1 will allow baseline shots to a team that’s patient enough to look for them and, working along the baseline, Jarrod Gee and Keeland Jordan combined for nine of the 21 points Leo scored in taking its 31-26 haltime lead.
Cleveland took it from there, outscoring Montini by himself (16-12) as the Lions buried the Broncos with a 29-point third-quarter outburst. But he was hardly a one-man gang; Austin Ford had 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists, Gee finished with 14 points (on 7-for-10 shooting), Tyler Smith contributed 11 points, seven assists and three steals and Christian Brockett had nine assists and four steals.
“I like how we played,” Thompson said. “We put Hillcrest behind us … but I think we learned from it.”
The Lions travel to Loyola on Tuesday, Jan. 25 before facing Mt. Carmel at Leo on Friday, Jan. 28.