The Leo Lions saw first-hand what a championship team looks like in the title game of the Big Dipper holiday basketball tournament at Rich South High School on Friday, Dec. 29.

Making their first appearance in the Dipper title game since 2006, the Lions ran into a Morgan Park squad that demonstrated why it is the defending Class 3-A state champion, using a vast array of weapons to outgun the Lions 82-71.

Leo battled gamely all night, especially after losing junior big man DeChaun Anderson to a knee injury late in the second period. Anderson’s absence helped Morgan Park enjoy a 41-30 rebounding advantage.

But the final outcome was simply a matter of too much Mustang firepower—even without injured University of Illinois signee Ayo Dosunmu, Morgan Park seemed able to produce a bucket each time it needed one.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Leo coach Shawn Frison said. “Four games in four days against four good teams and we were playing as hard in the fourth quarter as we were in the first. They just wore us down with their size and their shooting.”

Morgan Park countered Leo’s early 9-2 lead with a 15-2 spurt en route to a 26-point first quarter. The Lions battled back to within three points at halftime (38-35), but wobbled a bit in the third quarter after losing Anderson, and a sequence that occurred just as the period was ending proved costly.

Trailing 56-50, Leo rebounded a Morgan Park miss and looked to get back within three or four points as the final seconds of the third quarter ticked away. Instead, the Lions turned the ball over, then failed to corral two defensive rebounds, giving Morgan Park three shots at a quarter-ending score. Adam Miller drained a three-pointer on the third try, giving the Mustangs a more imposing nine-point lead (59-50) after three.

When they opened the fourth quarter with an 8-2 burst, they owned a 15-point advantage that the Lions could not overcome. But they never stopped trying.

Miller hit five of six three-pointers and scored 23 points for Morgan Park. Fellow sophomore Marcus Watson led the Mustangs with 24 points, while senior big man Cam Burrell collected 23 points and 17 rebounds.

Leo’s Fred Cleveland scored 10 of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter. He also had five assists and three steals and was a unanimous choice for the all-tournament team after averaging 23 points and five assists in four games.

Sophomore Kendale Anderson held his own with the bigger Mustangs, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Jaydon Williams scored 15 points and Malcolm Bell had 10 for the Lions. Bell and DeChaun Anderson (49 points, 49 rebounds in four games) joined Cleveland on the all-tournament team.

Its four-game winning streak halted, Leo will take a 7-5 overall record and a 2-2 Catholic League mark into the resumption of conference play against Providence-St. Mel at Leo on Friday, Jan. 5. Frison is not disappointed with where the Lions stand.

“I don’t know that there’s a team in the city that has played as tough a schedule as we have,” he said. “Being in all these tough, close games is going to serve us well down the road.”